Philippine troops raise flag as bombs fall on Islamist-held Marawi city

Marawi: Embattled Philippine troops struggling to drive Islamist militants from a southern city raised the national flag for Independence Day on Monday, in a tearful ceremony dedicated to the scores killed during the conflict.

Thousands of Philippine soldiers, advised by US special forces, are locked in fierce combat with hundreds of insurgents who overran Marawi city on 23 May, flying black flags of the Islamic State (IS) group and using up to 2,000 civilians as human shields.

 Philippine troops raise flag as bombs fall on Islamist-held Marawi city

Representational image. Reuters

As gunfire rang out and planes flew bombing raids to pummel districts of the largely abandoned city, a crowd of soldiers and teary-eyed officials, firemen, police and clerks gathered outside a nearby government building to raise the Philippine flag.

"This is dedicated to soldiers who offered their lives to implement our mission in Marawi city," said Colonel Jose Maria Cuerpo, commander of an army brigade fighting in Marawi.

The annual ceremony marks the anniversary of an armed revolt against Spanish colonial rule. The Philippines actually won independence from the United States in 1946.

All military camps and government agencies will fly their flags at half-mast on Tuesday in honour of the troops killed in Marawi, said military spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo. In the latest casualties, 13 Philippine Marines were killed on Friday in ferocious street-to-street battles.

Fighting in the city has left a total of 58 soldiers and police and more than 20 civilians dead, the military said, estimating that almost 200 militants have been killed.

On Monday, IS released a video via its Amaq propaganda news agency which it said showed jihadists shooting six Christians in Marawi, with a voiceover suggesting further executions had taken place off-camera, according to the US-based SITE monitoring service.

The last time the Philippine security forces sustained large numbers of deaths was in 2015 when 44 police commandos were killed in a botched attempt to capture a Malaysian Islamist militant in the same region.

Tens of thousands have fled Marawi, which is the largely Catholic country's most important Muslim city, since the military says its troops unexpectedly interrupted plans by the fighters to take over Marawi in a spectacular event to show that IS had arrived in the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte has said the militant attack was part of a wider plot by IS to establish a base in the southern region of Mindanao, and has declared martial law there to quell the threat.

But the military has struggled to defeat the heavily-armed gunmen, who have used hostages and pre-existing bomb-proof tunnels to entrench their positions.

"As you know, the target was to liberate Marawi today, June 12, but... you can see how complex the problem is and how many new developments there are," foreign secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters at the annual flag-raising ceremony in a Manila park.

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Updated Date: Jun 12, 2017 22:58:17 IST