Asia

Ten flee under fire amid Marawi fighting

Rescued policemen and civilians who were trapped during fighting between government troops against insurgents from the Maute group, who has taken over large parts of the Marawi city, answer questions during a conference in Marawi city, Philippines 13 June 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The police officers said they refused to leave the construction workers behind

Ten people ran through gunfire to escape fighting in a Philippine city seized by militants, as five more civilians deaths were reported.

Militants who declared allegiance to the so-called Islamic State took over parts of Marawi on the island of Mindanao more than three weeks ago.

Most residents have fled but several hundred are thought to be trapped.

A Philippine military spokesman said he could not give a timeframe for freeing the southern city from militants.

Early on Tuesday, the group of 10 people - five police officers and five construction workers who had been hiding for 22 days - ran 2km (1.25 miles) under fire to safety.

The policemen, all Muslims, told local media they refused to leave the workers - who were Christians - behind.

One of them, officer Lumna Lidasan, said: "We could have escaped and disguised ourselves because we are Muslims".

"But I thought that we could not leave them because they could not speak the local dialect. I know that they will be killed."

One of the construction workers said he was wounded by cement splinters caused by sniper bullets. "We crawled because snipers were shooting at us," Reuters quoted Mateo Velasquez as saying.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Philippine troops have been fighting against Islamist militants in Marawi for more than three weeks

In a separate incident, a presidential spokesman said five civilians were killed when militants discovered their hiding place.

"They were going to the river but the militants ran after them and indiscriminately fired at them, killing five and taking the remaining eight as hostages," Ernesto Abella said.

'No options'

The government had set a deadline of Monday to retake the city.

But asked when fighting would end, military spokesman Brig Gen Restituto Padilla said he could not give "a very accurate estimate because of compounding developments faced by ground commanders".

He said the urban terrain and the risk of militants using civilians as human shields were hampering troops.

The militants claim they are holding two-thirds of the city but the military deny this, saying it is likely to be around 20%, Reuters news agency reports.

According to the government, at least 26 civilians, 58 police or soldiers and 202 militants have been killed since the fighting began.

Image copyright Social Media Website via Reuters
Image caption Islamist militants control 20% of Marawi, the militants say

The city was home to 200,000 residents. Most have fled but those who are trapped are facing violence and a lack of food and water.

The Red Cross said it had been trying unsuccessfully to get the two sides to create a corridor through which civilians could leave, AFP news agency reported.

The violence in Marawi began when the army failed in its attempt to capture Isnilon Hapilon, believed to be the main IS leader in the Philippines and linked to the local Maute group, who have declared allegiance to IS.

In response the Maute group attacked parts of the city, taking hostages. President Rodrigo Duterte then declared martial law on Mindanao.

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