• MILF TO SECURE ‘PEACE CORRIDOR’

    Govt rules out talks with terrorists

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    The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday reiterated the government’s position not to negotiate with terrorist groups after a video of a priest appeared on social media, in which he repeated the Maute group’s demand to withdraw troops from Marawi City.

    HELP FROM MORO REBS President Rodrigo Duterte talks to Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and other MILF officials, including Mohagher Iqbal, Ustadz Khalifa Nando, Ghazali Jaafar and Sammy Al-Mansoor during a meeting in Davao City on Wednesday. MALACAÑANG PHOTO

    In a news conference in Malacañang, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the video was being used for propaganda and that abducted priest Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob was speaking under duress.

    Padilla also said he did not know if the number of hostages mentioned by Suganob –about 200 – was correct.”We’re not negotiating with terrorists…There is no change in the policy. The policy stays firm. It has not and will not change,” Padilla told reporters.

    “The video may seem to be authentic. But beyond the authenticity and the message of the video, there lies the real reason for coming up with the video, which is propaganda…And we would not want to get into that. The propaganda of the enemy…are indicative of their fighting for survival. They are trapped. They are contained.
    They are in areas [where]they will never come out alive unless they surrender,” he added.

    Padilla again urged the terrorists to lay down their weapons and surrender to reduce risk to innocent lives.

    “We are appealing to these armed men to come to their senses, lay down their weapons and surrender. In this manner, we will be able to reduce the increasing cost of innocent lives as well as damage to property, and at the same time this further lessens the [number of]crimes they have committed,” he said.

    In the viral video, Suganob pleaded with the military to stop its offensive against the Maute for the safety of the hostages.

    “Mr. President, I was taken as a prisoner of war together with one female professor of the Mindanao State University, two lady church workers, two male teachers of the Dansalan College Foundation Incorporated, and five female teachers of the Dansalan College Incorporated,” Suganob said in the video.

    Suganob said he and 200 others, including children and Christian settlers, are being held as “prisoners of war” in the strife-torn Marawi City.

    90 percent of Marawi ‘cleared’

    Padilla also said government security forces have cleared 90 percent of Marawi City of the extremist Maute group, more than a week after President Rodrigo Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law.

    “However, that 10 percent is most likely going to be the area that will be heavily guarded and defended by any of these armed men, if they are protecting any individual of high value,” he said.

    Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said at least 129 individuals have been killed in the continuing clashes in Marawi City, as of Tuesday: 19 civilians, 89 militants, and 21 government troops.

    The government was able to rescue 960 trapped residents in the city and recover 91 firearms, he said.

    ‘Peace corridor’ OK’d

    President Duterte meanwhile approved the creation of a “peace corridor” to hasten rescue and humanitarian operations for civilians trapped in Marawi City, as clashes between government troops and Maute terrorists continued on Wednesday.

    This was decided during the President’s meeting with leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Davao City on Monday, Abella said during a “Mindanao Hour” news briefing in Malacañang.

    Quoting government peace panel chief Irene Santiago, Abella said Duterte approved the idea of a peace corridor “to ensure the safety of the civilians and the delivery of the needed humanitarian aid for the displaced persons in the ongoing armed conflict in Marawi.”

    He said Santiago was designated by the President to oversee the humanitarian efforts for displaced civilians in Marawi City.

    During Monday’s meeting, MILF agreed to help the government secure areas that will be part of the peace corridor, Abella said.

    Duterte, in his visit to a military camp in Jolo, Sulu over the weekend, said the MILF and Moro National Liberation Front were welcomed to join government troops in military offensives against remaining members of the Maute group.

    Santiago said both the government and the MILF were “strongly committed to work as partners in finding creative ways to address the root causes of violent conflict in Mindanao at the soonest possible time.”

    The 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission also briefed the President on the developments in the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will allow wider autonomy in Muslim Mindanao. The draft is due in July.

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