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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Philippines says siege of Marawi by pro-ISIL militants is over

A military spokesman said there was still gunfire, but 'no more terrorists' in the city

Flame rises as damaged buildings are seen after government troops cleared the area from pro-ISIL militant groups inside a war-torn area in Marawi city, southern Philippines, on October 23, 2017. Romeo Ranoco / Reuters
Flame rises as damaged buildings are seen after government troops cleared the area from pro-ISIL militant groups inside a war-torn area in Marawi city, southern Philippines, on October 23, 2017. Romeo Ranoco / Reuters

The Philippines declared an end on Monday to five months of street-by-street fighting in a southern city held by pro-ISIL militants, the country's biggest security crisis in years.

Defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana said combat operations had been terminated after troops defeated gunmen who had held out inside buildings in the heart of Marawi.

"There are no more militants in Marawi," he told reporters gathered in Clark, Pampanga province, during a meeting of regional defence ministers.

Reuters journalists in Marawi City heard automatic gunfire and artillery throughout Monday morning.

Military spokesman Maj Gen Restituto Padilla confirmed there was gunfire in the city, but there were "no more terrorists" in Marawi. He did not elaborate.

Gen Padilla said the troops tried to convince the remaining rebels to surrender, but they refused. Two wives of fighters were among those killed.

The siege has stunned the Philippines and stoked wider concerns that ISIL loyalists have ambitions to make the Muslim areas of the island of Mindanao a base for operations in South-East Asia.

Those fears are compounded by the rebels' ability to recruit young fighters, stockpile huge amounts of arms and endure 154 days of ground offensive and government air strikes that have devastated the city.

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The armed forces chief Gen Eduardo Ano said at least 42 bodies of rebels were found on Monday in two buildings and a mosque in the battle zone.

The military has made significant gains in retaking Marawi in the week since Isnilon Hapilon, ISIL's "emir" in South-East Asia, and Omarkhayam Maute, a leader of the Maute militant group, were killed in a night-time operation.

Another leader and possible bankroller of the operation, Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad, was likely to have been killed, the military said.

Mr Lorenzana said there would be other military operations, and six battalions of troops would remain in Marawi. He did not elaborate on those operations.