THE military could not ascertain when displaced families could return to their residences in Lanao del Sur as security forces are still conducting clearing operations to make sure no booby traps and improvised explosives devices were left by the terrorist Maute Group whose camp in Piagapo town was overrun by government forces recently.
Lt. Col. Joa-ar Herrera, spokesman for the Philippine Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said the military is still hunting down the terrorists in the outskirts of the province.
“The clearing operations are still ongoing. Once it is terminated, the residents can go back to their respective residences,” he added.
Herrera said Army units are assisting internally displaced persons who are being provided relief goods by the Philippine Red Cross and non-government organizations.
The Army official estimated the affected people to number 3,000 and the area that is being cleared to be about 10 to 15 hectares.
At least 37 terrorists were killed in a series of clashes in the province that started over the weekend when government forces launched massive offensives against the Maute Group.
Among those reportedly killed were three Indonesians and a Malaysian, said to be members of the Asian terror group Jema’ah Islamiyah (JI).
Government forces captured the Maute camp in Piagapo complex, Barangay Gacap after a final assault on Monday.
They immediately raised the Philippine flag there.
The Maute Group, also known as the Dawlah Islamiya, is led by siblings Omar and Abdullah Maute, both ethnic Maranaos who grew up in Butig town in the first district of Lanao del Sur.
The group boasts of loyalty to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and is using the black ISIS flag as its revolutionary banner.
Maute gunmen, feared for their enforcement of a ruthless Taliban-style justice system in areas where they operate, have been sowing terror in the hinterlands of Lanao del Sur since 2015.
They collect “revolutionary taxes” from hapless peasants at gunpoint and interfere with the affairs of duly-constituted barangay (village) governments.