Posts Tagged ‘Philippines’

Philippines: Islamist militants in Marawi City continue to mobilize clan members, bring affiliate-gunmen into the battle

June 26, 2017
A defense analyst said on Monday that the figthing in Marawi City could be a case of “pintakasi” as the crisis enter its second month. AP/Bullit Marquez, File
 (philstar.com) |

MANILA, Philippines — A defense analyst said on Monday that the battle between Philippine security forces and Islamist militants in Marawi City which has left hundreds dead and scores injured could be considered a case of “pintakasi.”

In an interview with news station ANC, Jose Antonio Custodio, a defense expert, said that the battle raging in Marawi City could be a case of “pintakasi” which, in this case, means collective effort in fighting an outsider.

If used in community work, “pintakasi” would be akin to “bayanihan.”

Custodio said a core group of Maute militants could have been reinforced by fighters from other armed groups in Mindanao, an island of 22 million parts of which are hampered by secessionist and communist movements, terrorism and criminality.

When asked if fighting in Marawi City was a case of “pintakasi,” Custodio said: “I think that’s what’s happening there. You have a core group of Maute and then you have affiliates from other armed organizations which the military also mentioned in many of its briefings.”

In situations like this, their ability to mobilize clan members and other allies is quite fast, according to Custodio. He said that an initial estimate of 50 fighters could immediate swell to several hundred as they used their tribal and clan connections to reinforce their fighters.

“One thing that we have to be aware of is that in those types of places the rapidity of how they can mobilize clan members, affiliate-gunmen is quite fast. There’s actually a term for it. They call it pintakasi. Your estimate of 50 gunmen initially will be overtaken by events. Suddenly they will call on their clan connections and their allies, and next thing you know you will be facing several hundred of them,” he said.

The Mamasapano clash of 2015, where commandos of the elite police Special Action Force were caught in a firefight with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and private armed groups was also said to be a case of pintakasi.

The police raid against international terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir, also known as Marwan, was done without coordination with the MILF as required by ceasefire protocols and sparked the firefight that left 44 SAF commandos, 18 MILF fighters and several civilians dead.

MILF peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal explained in a congressional hearing on the encounter that it was “an automatic response of the people who are under siege from outsiders.”
The MILF has an agreement with the government to assist law enforcement operations in its areas. It is also helping secure a so-called peace corridor in Lanao del Sur to facilitate rescue and relief operations for those affected by fighting in Marawi.

AFP observes ‘humanitarian pause’

Custodio’s comments came as the end of the truce declared by the military to mark the end of Ramadan was marred by sporadic bursts of gunfire as militant snipers took aim at positions held by troops.

Gen. Eduardo Año, the Philippine military chief, ordered a brief cessation of hostilities as Muslims celebrated Eid’l Fitr, which marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Security personnel and Islamist militants belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-inspired Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf have been fighting in Marawi, a city of more than 200,000, for over a month now.

The fighting began on May 23 as troops tried to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf subleader and the point man of the so-called ISIS in the region. Security personnel faced intense resistance from the rebels, and this prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire island under army rule.

Aside from a significant number of troops on the ground engaging the militants in street-to-street urban battle, the military has also pounded terrorist positions with heavy air offensives and artillery fire.

However, these have so far failed to rid the Islamic city of Maute fighters who are well entrenched in a few villages.

The fighting has already claimed the lives of more than 350 people, most of them rebels. It has also displaced most of the city’s residents although several hundred civilians remain trapped in the area.

‘No comparison with Zamboanga siege’

Custodio said that the battle in Marawi could not be compared with the siege of Zamboanga City as the two have wide differences especially in terrain.

“You have to take into consideration also the terrain in Marawi which is basically landlocked. You have the south which is Lanao Lake. Recently you have the military saying that even Lanao Lake is being used by Maute for movement. You can infiltrate and exfiltrate the city easier than what could have been done in Zamboanga which is on the tip of a peninsula,” Custodio said.

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/06/26/1713790/marawi-siege-pintakasi-analyst

Philippine envoys talk with Islamist militant leader during brief truce

June 25, 2017

Reuters

Philippines army soldiers patrol as government forces continue their assault against insurgents from the Maute group, who have taken over large parts of Marawi City, Philippines June 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
By Kanupriya Kapoor and Manuel Mogato | MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES

Philippine emissaries met on Sunday with a leader of a militant group loyal to Islamic State, officials said, taking advantage of a short truce in a battle over a southern city occupied by rebels for more than a month.

The eight Muslim leaders entered the conflict zone in the heart of Marawi City alongside rescue teams. It was not immediately clear what was discussed with Abdullah Maute, one of two brothers in charge of the Islamist group named after them.

Retired General Dickson Hermoso, who coordinates efforts to free trapped civilians, said a unilateral eight-hour truce by the army to mark the Eid al-Fitr Islamic holiday was extended to enable the talks, details of which he withheld to avoid jeopardizing chances for dialogue.

“We need to balance this because this is very precarious,” Hermoso told reporters.

He said the Maute group released some women and children on Sunday and the emissaries had come under fire briefly from rebel snipers.

“We have only established a foothold with the Maute,” he said. “We hope both sides will again grant us the respite.”

The military had on Saturday said Abdullah Maute had fled from the town and was no longer in the fight. Though they have no solid evidence, the authorities believe his brother, Omarkhayam, was among three of the seven Maute brothers killed.

A source familiar with the meeting said the emissaries were from Marawi and were only granted access to Maute because they were of the same “Maranao” clan.

The seizure of Marawi has caused the biggest internal security crisis in decades for the Philippines, and a realization that the long-feared arrival of Islamic State could be a reality.

Images of black-clad fighters and Islamic State flags flying in Marawi has caused alarm in the mainly Roman Catholic nation, and the protracted occupation and presence of foreign fighters suggests the militants may have bigger designs on the southern Philippines than previously imagined.

The daily air strikes were halted on Sunday but small skirmishes took place as rebel snipers fired intermittently on positions held by troops.

Rescue teams tried to reach trapped civilians and recover bodies of dead residents killed in the heart of a city battered for weeks by clashes, air strikes and artillery shelling.

RESCUE AT GROUND ZERO

Military spokesman Jo-Ar Herrera said troops had not resumed operations after the truce and were holding defensive positions.

“We have reports there were around five people who came out from ground zero,” Herrera told news channel ANC.

“We’re very confident we can rescue more.”

Muslims attended prayers at a Marawi mosque in an emotional gathering.

The violence has displaced some 246,000 people, and killed more than 350, most of them rebels, and about 69 members of the security forces. Twenty-six civilians have been killed but officials believe many more could be dead.

“This is supposed to a day of happiness,” said Imam Aleem Ansari Abdul Malik, who led the prayers.

“Families should be together but they were torn apart.”

He reminded Muslims to shun the advances of radical groups.

“This is just a small fire, do not allow the flames to go bigger by joining extremists,” he said.

Conditions for those trapped in Marawi have been dire, with witnesses reporting bodies on streets, limited food and water and a constant threat of being killed by either the militants, or air strikes.

The threat of Islamic State gaining a foothold in the Philippines has been raised by their losses in Syria and Iraq, and intelligence reports that the militants are seeking new bases from which to project their agenda.

Though the military is confident it can retake Marawi soon, the level of the militants’ preparations, combat capability and resilience has created some trepidation about whether their assault could be the beginning of a wider campaign.

Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Garcia, head of the Western Mindanao civil-military operations, on Saturday said intelligence indicated that Malaysian operative and extremist fundraiser Mahmud Ahmad had been killed, while Isnilon Hapilon, the Islamic State anointed “emir” of Southeast Asia, had fled.

For a graphic on the battle for Marawi, click: here

(Writing and additional reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Muslims in Asia Pray for Peace as Ramadan Holy Month Ends — “I think we need to go back to the basis of Islam which is to give peace to all mankind”

June 25, 2017

SINGAPORE — Muslims in Asia celebrated the Eid-al-Fitr religious holiday on Sunday with prayers for peace as they marked the end of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.

As at the start of Ramadan, during which believers abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours, Eid-al-Fitr depends on the sighting of the moon and its celebration varies in different countries.

The day begins with early morning prayers and then family visits and feasts.

In Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, residents said they hoped the spirit of Eid would overcome fears about rising militancy in the country with the largest number of Muslims.

A police officer was killed on Sunday in an attack by suspected Islamist militants in the city of Medan.

Islamic State sympathizers have carried out a series of mostly low-level attacks in Indonesia over the past few years.

“I think we need to go back to the basis of Islam which is to give peace to all mankind,” Samsul Arifin told Reuters Television.

In the Philippines, fighting between government forces and Islamist rebels in the southern town of Marawi eased on Sunday as the military sought to enforce a temporary truce to mark the Eid holiday.

Small skirmishes took place early in the day in parts of Marawi, where fighters loyal to Islamic State were clinging on for a fifth week.

Muslims attended prayers at a Marawi mosque in an emotional gathering. The fighting has displaced some 246,000 people, and killed more than 350 people, most of them rebels, and about 69 members of the security forces.

“This is the most painful, the most sorrowful occasion, Eid al-Fitr, that we have experienced for the last hundreds of years,” said Zia Alonto Adiong, a spokesman for the provincial crisis committee.

In Malaysia, the civil war in Yemen was on the minds of two refugees who prayed at the main mosque in the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Sisters Sumayah and Nabila Ali said they sought refuge in Malaysia after fleeing Yemen where more than 10,000 people have died in two years of conflict.

“When we say poor people, children who are not safe, are always in danger, we hope that one day it will be safe again and people will be happy again. Inshallah,” said 28-year-old Sumayah.

(Reporting by Reuters Television, writing by Darren Schuettler, editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Related:

 Iranians hold a cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of the Shahab-3 long range missile during a rally marking Quds Day. Photo: EPA

China ‘deploys submarine-hunting aircraft to South China Sea’ in defiance of US warnings

June 25, 2017
SATELLITE imagery has indicated unmanned aircraft and China’s newest Y-8X maritime patrol aircraft have been deployed to the fringes of the South China Sea.

PUBLISHED: 05:39, Sat, Jun 24, 2017 | UPDATED: 06:14, Sat, Jun 24, 2017

China aircraftDigitalGlobe

Satellite imagery has indicated Chinese aircraft have been deployed to the South China Sea

Photos taken by commercial firm DigitalGlobe in May show four submarine-hunters, three Harbin BZK-005 recon unmanned aerial vehicles and two KJ-500 early warning jets parked at Lingshui Air Base on Hainan Island.The Y-8X aircraft were put into service in 2015 but have not been documented at the Lingshui Air Base until now, according to Defense News.​The submarine-hunter is the first combat-ready maritime patrol plane to be commissioned by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA-N).

The Lingshui Air Base gained huge attention in 2001 when a US Navy EP-3 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft crashed with a Chinese aircraft in midair, killing the Chinese pilot involved.The US Navy aircraft was reportedly forced to send out a “mayday” signal and make an emergency landing at the Linshui Air Base.Earlier this month, the US issued a stark warning that it would not accept China’s militarisation of man-made islands in the South China Sea.

South China SeaGETTY

China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea are contested by other countries

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Speaking at a security conference in Singapore, US Defence Secretary James Mattis said such moves undermined regional stability and would not be tolerated.China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea – through which about £3.9trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year – are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.President Donald Trump and other senior US officials have repeatedly stated that they would protect its interests in the South China Sea – a key shipping route.

MattisGETTY

James Mattis has warned against Chinese militarisation of man-made islands in the South China Sea

A tumultuous history of the South China Sea dispute

During his nomination hearing earlier this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the US was “going to have to send China a clear signal that first the island-building stops, and second your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed”.

In response, the Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing would “remain firm to defend its rights in the region”.

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http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/820791/China-deploys-aircraft-to-South-China-Sea-in-defiance-of-US-warnings

Philippine army halts counter-terrorist op in Marawi for Muslim holiday

June 25, 2017

RT (Russia Today)

Philippine army halts counter-terrorist op in Marawi for Muslim holiday


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Philippine forces declare eight-hour ceasefire in war-torn Marawi city to let locals celebrate the end of Ramadan http://u.afp.com/4hR6
11:56 PM – 24 Jun 2017
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Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez said the temporary halt of hostilities on the island of Mindanao is a “gesture of our strong commitment and respect to the Muslim world, particularly to the local Muslims of Marawi City.”


RT @RT_com
#Duterte says #Marawi operation ‘winding up’ as death toll passes 300, including 26 civilianshttps://on.rt.com/8f3c
8:35 PM – 17 Jun 2017
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View image on Twitter

However, the general warned that the army will resume its operation “immediately” if “troops security is jeopardized” or if the “safety of civilians is threatened,” the Manila Standard reports.

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© Ted Aljibe‘We lost everything’: Civilians fleeing ISIS-besieged Philippines city talk to RT
Despite several small skirmishes in parts of Marawi City Sunday morning, the ceasefire is being observed, Reuters reported, noting that locals are attended morning prayers at local mosques.

For over a month now, the Philippines army has been battling radical Islamists in Marawi, the capital of the country’s second largest island, Mindanao. Apart from the main Maute terrorist group, which has pledged allegiance to IS, there are around 20 other foreign and local jihadist cells which battle for control of the Philippine territory, authorities say.

At least 26 civilians and 69 soldiers have been killed since fighting began on May 23. Philippines armed forces have killed 290 terrorists in the same period, PhilStar reports.

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More Blood but No Victory as Philippine Drug War Marks Its First Year — Ignoring human rights, Police turned into murderers — “This president behaves as if he is above the law.”

June 25, 2017

MANILA — Launched a year ago, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs has resulted in thousands of deaths, yet the street price of crystal methamphetamine in Manila has fallen and surveys show Filipinos are as anxious as ever about crime.

Duterte took power on June 30 last year, vowing to halt the drug abuse and lawlessness he saw as “symptoms of virulent social disease.”

Thanks to his campaign, government officials say, crime has dropped, thousands of drug dealers are behind bars, a million users have registered for treatment, and future generations of Filipinos are being protected from the scourge of drugs.

“There are thousands of people who are being killed, yes,” said Oscar Albayalde, Metro Manila’s police chief told Reuters. “But there are millions who live, see?”

A growing chorus of critics, however, including human rights activists, lawyers and the country’s influential Catholic Church, dispute the authorities’ claims of success.

Police probers gather evidence near the bodies of two alleged drug pushers killed in Quiapo, Manila.STAR/Joven Cagande

They say police have summarily executed drug suspects with impunity, terrorising poorer communities and exacerbating the very lawlessness they were meant to tackle.

“This president behaves as if he is above the law – that he is the law,” wrote Amado Picardal, an outspoken Filipino priest, in a recent article for a Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines publication. “He has ignored the rule of law and human rights.”

The drug war’s exact death toll is hotly disputed, with critics saying the toll is far above the 5,000 that police have identified as either drug-related killings, or suspects shot dead during police operations.

Most victims are small-time users and dealers, while the masterminds behind the lucrative drug trade are largely unknown and at large, say critics of Duterte’s ruthless methods.

If the strategy was working the laws of economics suggest the price of crystal meth, the highly addictive drug also known as ‘shabu’, should be rising as less supply hits the streets.

But the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s own data suggests shabu has become even cheaper in Manila.

In July 2016, a gram of shabu cost 1,200-11,000 pesos ($24-$220), according to agency’s figures. Last month, a gram cost 1,000-15,000 pesos ($20-$300), it said.

The wide ranges reflect swings in availability and sharp regional variations. Officials say Manila’s street prices are at the lowest end of the range. And that has come down, albeit by just a few dollars.

“If prices have fallen, it’s an indication that enforcement actions have not been effective,” said Gloria Lai of the International Drug Policy Consortium, a global network of non-governmental groups focused on narcotics.

The problem is, according to Derrick Carreon, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s spokesman, that while nine domestic drug labs have been busted, shabu smuggled in from overseas has filled the market gap.

“Demand needs to be addressed because there are still drug smugglers,” Carreon said.

While smuggled shabu has kept the price down in the capital, the official data shows the price has gone up in the already substantially more expensive far-flung regions, like the insurgency-racked southern island of Mindanao.

Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao last month after militants inspired by Islamic State stormed Marawi City, and the army’s failure to retake the city quickly has dented the president’s image as a law-and-order president.

AFRAID OF THE DARK

Surveys by Social Weather Stations (SWS), a leading Manila pollster, reveal a public broadly supportive of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, but troubled by its methods and dubious about its effectiveness.

SWS surveys in each of the first three quarters of Duterte’s rule showed a “very high satisfaction” with the anti-drug campaign, said Leo Laroza, a senior SWS researcher.

In the most recent survey, published on April, 92 percent said it was important that drug suspects be captured alive.

Respondents also reported a 6.3 percent rise in street robberies and break-ins. More than half of those polled said they were afraid to venture out at night, a proportion that had barely changed since the drug war began, said Laroza.

“People still have this fear when it comes to their neighbourhoods,” he said. “It has not gone down.”

Public and police perceptions of crime levels seem to diverge.

The number of crimes committed in the first nine months of Duterte’s rule has dropped by 30 percent, according to police statistics cited by the president’s communications team.

Albayalde, the capital’s police chief, said people, particularly in Manila, felt safer now, especially due to a crackdown on drug users who he said commit most of the crime.

In the first 11 months of Duterte’s rule, police say 3,155 suspects were shot dead in anti-drug operations. Critics maintain that many of them were summarily executed.

    Police say they have investigated a further 2,000 drug-related killings, and have yet to identify a motive in at least another 7,000 murders and homicides.

Human rights monitors believe many of these victims were killed by undercover police or their paid vigilantes, a charge the police deny.

For residents of Navotas fishport, a warren of shacks near Manila’s docks, the body count is too high. There were nine killings in a single night in Navotas earlier this month, according to local media.

In mid-May, said resident Mary Joy Royo, a dozen gunmen arrived on motorbikes and abducted her mother and stepfather. Their corpses were found later with execution-style gunshots to the head and torso.

“They should be targeting the drug lords,” Royo told Reuters. “The victims of the drug war are the poor people.”

Human rights activists light candles for the victims of extrajudicial killings around the country in the wake of “War on Drugs” campaign by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Monday, Aug. 15, 2016 in suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. The “war on drugs” campaign, which saw hundreds of mostly poor victims, has been condemned by human rights groups including the United Nations Chief Ban Ki-moon. AP/Bullit Marquez

RIPPLE EFFECT

As the death toll has risen, so has domestic and international outrage.

In October, the Hague-based International Criminal Court said it could investigate the killings if they were “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population.”

Police operations were halted for much of February after it emerged that anti-drug police abducted and killed a South Korean businessman last year, but the outcry over the rising body count has rarely slowed the killing or led to prosecutions.

The Philippine Commission on Human Rights is investigating 680 drug-war killings.

“In this country the basic problem is impunity,” Chito Gascon, the commission’s chairman, said. “No one is ever held to account for the worst violations. Ever.”

Police chief Albayalde says that the force’s Internal Affairs Service (IAS) investigates all allegations of abuse by his officers.

“We do not tolerate senseless killings,” he said. “We do not just kill anybody.”

IAS told Reuters it had investigated 1,912 drug-related cases and recommended 159 officers for dismissal due to misconduct during anti-drug operations, although it didn’t know whether any had yet been dismissed.

Earlier this month, 19 police officers charged with murdering two drug suspects in their jail cell in November were released on bail and now face trial for the lesser crime of homicide.

Duterte, who has repeatedly urged police to kill drug suspects, had already vowed to pardon the officers if they were convicted.

“You have a head of state who says, ‘Kill, kill, kill,’ a head of state who says, ‘I’ve got your back,'” said CHR’s Gascon. “That has a ripple effect.”

(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales in Manila; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Related:

 (The Philippines seems to be siding with China, Russia and Iran)

President Rodrigo Duterte's crusade against drug users and dealers is controversial

Philippine Troops Declare Eight Hour Cease Fire

June 24, 2017

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine military has declared an eight-hour halt to its air and ground offensive against Islamic militants aligned with the Islamic State group in southern Marawi city to allow residents, most of them displaced, to celebrate the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla says the “humanitarian pause” will take effect at 6 a.m. Sunday in Marawi but will be lifted immediately if the militants open fire or threaten troops and civilians.

Padilla said Sunday the cease-fire is a “gesture of our strong commitment and respect to the Muslim world,” particularly the Muslims of Marawi.

At least 280 militants, 69 soldiers and police and 263 civilians have been killed in a month of fighting since the militants laid siege on the Islamic city.

US stand on South China Sea remains unchanged amid China dialogue

June 24, 2017
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis appear at news conference following a Diplomatic and Security Dialogue Meeting with a Chinese delegation including State Counselor Yang Jiechi and military Chief of Joint Staff Fang Fenghui, at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, June 21, 2017. AP/Cliff Owen

MANILA, Philippines — US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis made it clear to Beijing that Washington’s position on the South China Sea remains unchanged during a security dialogue between the two countries.

Tillerson and Mattis hosted Chinese foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi and Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s joint staff department, for the first session of the US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington.

Tillerson said he and Mattis had a frank exchange of views on the disputed waters with the Chinese leaders.

“We oppose changes to the status quo of the past through the militarization of outposts in the South China Sea and excessive maritime claims unsupported by international law, and we uphold the freedom of navigation and overflight,” Tillerson said in a press conference.

Mattis said that they also discussed the importance of freedom of navigation, peaceful resolution of maritime disputes and ways to decrease tension in the South China Sea.

The Pentagon chief stressed that the US will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.

“On South China Sea, this is a dialogue where we identify areas where we can work together and to understand those areas where we have, I would call them disconnects, where are our understanding of the problem is very different from theirs,” Mattis said.

Mattis added that Beijing and Washington will continue to work on “closing gaps” in their understanding in the future.

“But I would say for right now that’s the whole purpose for the dialogue that we held here today, and we will be holding more in the future,” Mattis said.

A few weeks ago, Tillerson accused China of using its economic power to evade issues such as the South China Sea dispute.

“We desire productive relationships, but we cannot allow China to use its economic power to buy its way out of other problems, whether its militarizing islands in the South China Sea or failing to put appropriate pressure on North Korea,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during his visit to Sydney.

Irked by Tillerson’s remarks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry insisted that China and Southeast Asian countries have been making efforts to uphold peace and stability in the contested waters.

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/06/24/1712590/us-stand-south-china-sea-remains-unchanged-amid-china-dialogue

Related:

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The international arbitration court in the Hague said on July 12, 2016, that China’s “nine dash line” was not recognized under international law — making the Vietnamese and Philippine claims on South China Sea islands valid and lawful.

US wanted terror leader may have fled Philippine city

June 24, 2017

AFP

© PA/AFP / by Ted ALJIBE | Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in Marawi and the entire southern region of Mindanao

MARAWI (PHILIPPINES) (AFP) – One of America’s most wanted terrorists may have escaped a five-week battle with Islamist militants in a southern Philippine city, which began with a raid to capture him, the military said Saturday.Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant said to be the leader of the Islamic State (IS) group in Southeast Asia, has not been seen in the battle zone in Marawi City, said Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, head of the military’s Western Mindanao Command.

An attempt by government troops to arrest Hapilon in Marawi on May 23 triggered a rampage by Islamist militants flying black IS flags and backed by some foreign fighters who seized parts of the mainly Muslim city.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Marawi and the entire southern region of Mindanao, unleashing an offensive to crush what he said was an attempt by the jihadist group to establish a province in the area.

“He (Hapilon) has not been seen in the area. We have some reports that he was already able to slip somewhere but as of now we are still confirming the reports,” Galvez said in an interview with DZBB radio station.

Asked if Hapilon was on the run, he said: “Yes, yes because reportedly he suffered a lot of casualties. Majority of his group, more than half, were casualties.”

– $5 million bounty –

Hapilon was indicted in Washington for his involvement in the 2001 kidnapping of three Americans in the Philippines, and has a $5-million bounty on his head from the US government, which has his name on its “most wanted” terror list.

He leads a faction of the Philippine militant group Abu Sayyaf that has pledged allegiance to IS.

Security analysts say he has been recognised by IS as its “amir”, or leader, in Southeast Asia, a region where the group wants to establish a caliphate.

The military says Hapilon’s group had joined forces with another armed militancy, the Maute Group, to launch the Marawi siege, now on its second month.

On Saturday, security forces continued intense air raids and artillery fire on pockets of Marawi still occupied by the militants, while troops fought house-to-house gunbattles on the ground.

“The operation is going on, the firefights are intense. We have gained substantial ground,” said Galvez, the military commander.

Nearly 300 militants and 67 government troops have been killed in the fighting, according to official figures.

Galvez said there are “strong indications” that two or three of the Maute brothers — among the key players in the siege — had been killed, including Omarkhayam Maute, believed to be the group’s top leader.

Only one brother, Abdullah, has been visible in the fighting, Galvez added.

– Foreign fighters –

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in Manila the military is “validating an intelligence report” that Malaysian Mahmud bin Ahmad, who helped lead and finance the Marawi siege, died from wounds he had sustained in the early days of the fighting.

Abella said he would not officially confirm the death unless government troops recovered the remains.

When asked about Mahmud’s reported death, Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar told AFP in a text message in Kuala Lumpur: “Not true. He is still alive.”

Abella said authorities were also verifying another intelligence report that 89 foreign fighters are in Mindanao, entering the region through the Philippines’ porous maritime borders with Malaysia and Indonesia.

Galvez said troops on Friday recovered two decomposing corpses that bore features of people from the Middle East.

Eight other militants, including those from Chechnya, Indonesia and Malaysia, had been killed earlier in the fighting, defence chief Delfin Lorenzana has said.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines on June 19 launched joint patrols on their maritime borders to block the movement of the militants.

Australia said Friday it will send two high-tech spy planes to help Filipino troops fight the militants, joining the US which has also provided similar help.

strs-mba/rb

by Ted ALJIBE
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Financier of Islamic State Related Maute Group Killed in Philippine Battle — ISIS Inspired Fighters “Shattered” — Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia Assisting the Philippines

June 23, 2017

Image result for Mahmud bin Ahmad, photos

Malaysian “financier” Mahmud bin Ahmad —AP

MARAWI—A Malaysian militant who helped lead and finance the siege of Marawi and one of the Maute brothers who carried out the violence are believed to have been killed in the fighting, with the Islamic State (IS)-backed terrorists now constricted in a section of the besieged city after a month of fighting, the military said on Friday.

Gen. Eduardo Año told The Associated Press (AP) by telephone that Malaysian Mahmud bin Ahmad was wounded in the fighting in Marawi last month and reportedly died on June 7 of his wounds.

He said the military had a “general idea” of where the militant was buried, and troops were trying to locate the exact spot with the help of civilians to recover the remains and validate the intelligence that was received.

 Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, closeup
Maute brothers Abdullah (left) and Omarkhayam Maute.

A local militant leader, Omarkhayam Maute,  is also believed to have been killed in the early days of intense fighting, he said.

Año, citing intelligence shared by foreign counterparts, said Mahmud was suspected of channeling more than P30 million  from IS to acquire firearms, food and other supplies for the attack, which began late May.

A former Malaysian university professor who received training in Afghanistan, Mahmud appeared in a video showing terrorist leaders planning the Marawi siege in a hideout, a sign of his key role in the uprising.

The video, since made available to the press, was seized by Filipino troops in a militant hideout on

May 23.

Malaysian security officials have also received information of Mahmud’s killing in Marawi and were trying to confirm it.

Two other leaders of the uprising, top Abu Sayyaf fighter Isnilon Hapilon and Maute’s brother, Abdullah, were still with other gunmen fighting in Marawi, Año said.

A month ago, about 500 local militants, along with several foreign fighters, stormed into Marawi, a bastion of Islamic faith in the south.

Troops since then have killed about 280 gunmen, recovered nearly 300 assault firearms and regained control of 85 buildings.

Many of the high rises were used as sniper posts to slow down the advance of government forces, the military said.

At least 69 soldiers and policemen and 26 civilians have also perished in the fighting.

Of the 19 of 96 villages across the lakeside city of 200,000 people that the black flag-waving militants occupied, only four villages remain under their control, the military chief said.

“They are constricted in a very small area. They’re pinned down,” Año said. He also said three boatloads of gunmen, who tried to join the militants, were blasted by navy gunboats three days ago in Lanao Lake, which borders Marawi.

The gunmen may have either been terrorists repositioning from nearby areas or rebel reinforcements from elsewhere, he said.

Still, the audacious uprising by the heavily armed fighters and their ability to hold on to large sections of a city for weeks had surprised the government and the military, and sparked fears among Southeast Asian governments that IS was seriously moving to gain a foothold in their region.

Australia said on Friday the Philippines had accepted an offer of assistance. Defense Minister Marise Payne said Australia would deploy two AP-3C Orion aircraft to provide surveillance support to the Philippine military.

Image may contain: airplane

Australian AP-3C Orion aircraft to provide surveillance support to the Philippine military

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and his Malaysian and Indonesian counterparts met in a closed-door conference with top security officials in Manila on Thursday to discuss the Marawi crisis.

They agreed on a plan of action to combat terrorism and rising extremism and deal with the prospects of Asian fighters returning to their region from Syria and Iraq, where IS has been losing territory in a protracted conflict.

Año said that the battle in Marawi was taking longer than usual because the militants were using civilians as human shields and had no qualms destroying an entire city and killing anyone on their path.

“We can just bomb them away or use napalm bomb to burn everything, but then, we will not be any different from them if we do that,” he said.

Maute killed?

Army 1st Division  spokesperson, Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera said there were indications that Omarkhayam Maute had been killed “in one of the four conflict areas that we have been talking about,” referring to the villages of Lilod, Raya Madaya, Marinaut and Bangolo.

Herrera said they still could not categorically say if Omarkhayam was indeed killed “because we do not have the body.”

“We can’t say what day he was killed, what caliber (of firearms) had killed him or where was the cadaver buried. But we have been reporting as early as two weeks ago that he was a fatality. There’s a strong indication and we continue to make validations,” Herrera said.

As this developed, Herrera said the military continued to seize more areas from the extremists, who are now numbering between 90 to 100 fighters. “We have killed a large number of them so their size had shrunk,” he said.

But Herrera maintained the military could not say when the fighting would end.

“We did not establish or say anything on deadlines. Our goal is to continue our combat clearing operations. Our battlefield is very fluid and dynamic. Every day, the location of the enemy changes,” he said.

Airstrikes continued on Friday, and soldiers continued their push into the enemy location inside the city. Herrera said the terrorists were now “desperate because their area continues to diminish.”

“They continue to use the hostages as human shields and they maximized their use of explosives to slow us down,” he said.

Local officials involved

Also on Friday, government security forces recovered about 2 kilograms of “shabu” from the house of a former mayor who was also tagged as a supporter of the Maute gunmen.

Chief Insp. William Santos of Philippine Drug Enforcement Group for Mindanao, told reporters the shabu, with an estimated street value of P10 million, was recovered around

10 a.m. from the house of former Marawi Mayor Omar Solitaio Ali.

Santos said Ali was suspected to be a financier of the Maute group.

Ali’s brother, Fahad Salic, also a former mayor of Marawi, was arrested in Misamis Oriental on June 7.

In Pantao Ragat in Lanao del Norte, Mayor Lacson Lantud said he wasn’t surprised to learn that his brother, Hata Macabanding Lantud, was arrested in August along with some Maute members.

“Prior to that, he was talking to my wife Eleonor. My wife thought of calling him for a vacation travel to Vigan. But my wife got surprised when he said he was not in Manila but in Butig (Lanao del Sur) and he was in the middle of a firefight between soldiers and the Maute,” Lantud told the Inquirer.

He said it remained a puzzle how his brother was convinced to join in the fight.

Lantud said Hata, a graduate of the Philippine School of Business Administration in Manila, had just passed the board exams for public accountants then and they did not know the reason behind his joining the terrorist group.

“We didn’t have any clue that he had been radicalized. The months before that, we even regularly saw him in Manila and we didn’t see any indication. I helped him go through college and he was close to me,” Lantud said.

He said that when news came to them that eight Maute members, who were transporting explosives, had been arrested in the village of Nanagun in Lumbayanague, Lanao del Sur—they still had no idea that Hata was among them. —WITH A REPORT FROM AP

Inquirer calls for support for the victims in Marawi City

Responding to appeals for help, the Philippine Daily Inquirer is extending its relief to victims of the attacks in Marawi City

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Inquiries may be addressed to Inquirer’s Corporate Affairs office through Connie Kalagayan at 897-4426, ckalagayan@inquirer.com.ph and Bianca Kasilag-Macahilig at 897-8808 local 352, bkasilag@inquirer.com.ph.

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