Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has rejected an offer by Islamic State-linked militants to exchange hostages for a safe passage out of the southern city of Marawi, which the militants have besieged since May. It is thought that Filipino priest Teresito “Chito” Suganob is being offered as part of the deal, according to UCA News.
After three-and-a-half months of conflict, around 50 fighters are still battling the military in a shrinking pocket in Marawi. More than 800 people have died in the fighting, which was sparked by a failed attempt to arrest the leader of the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf.
With the help of US$300 million worth of US military aid, the Philippines government has started a US$1 billion rehabilitation effort in recent days. The building of temporary shelters and the reconstruction of damaged mosques is a priority following the displacement of an estimated 500,000 people. The devastation to the city, part of the restive southern island of Mindanao, has been described as “massive” by Colonel Romeo Brawner, Deputy Commander of the joint military task force.
President Duterte said at a conference on 9 September that “what is happening in Marawi seems to have stretched the trouble farther than we expected… There will be no peace in Mindanao for a long time”.