Philippine president rejects militants' offer to release hostages in exchange for safe passage

(Reuters/Romeo Ranoco)A government soldier checks his mobile phone in front of damaged houses and buildings as troops continue their assault on clearing operations against the pro-IS militant group which seized Mapandi district in Marawi city, southern Philippines.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has rejected a rumored offer from Islamic State-linked militants to release dozens of hostages, including a Catholic priest, in exchange for safe passage out of the war-torn city of Marawi.

On Sept. 9, Duterte told reporters that his peace adviser Jesus Dureza had asked a former mayor to talk with leaders of the militant group known as the Maute.

It was rumored that the leader of the rebel group, Omarkhayam Maute, had offered to release Marawi Vicar-General Father Teresito "Chito" Soganub and dozens of other hostages in exchange for allowing the militants to flee the city. When reporters asked Duterte about the rumored proposal, the president simply stated, "No way."

Around 50 militants are still fighting against military forces in a shrinking pocket in Marawi, 112 days since the city was besieged by the rebels in late May.

Initial reports have indicated that the militants have held over 200 hostages and some were forced to take up arms against military troops, while others were ordered to loot homes or become sex slaves. Some hostages were reportedly killed, while others have escaped or were rescued.

According to the Philippine military, about 20 to 30 hostages are still being held captive by the militants.

Duterte told journalists over the weekend that he expects the southern island of Mindanao to remain a flash point of conflict and terrorism.

"There will be no peace in Mindanao for a long time," the president said during an island-wide business conference on Sept. 9, according to UCA News. "What is happening in Marawi seems to have stretched the trouble farther than we expected," he continued.

Martial law has been imposed on the southern island until the end of the year, in an attempt to break up an alliance of pro-ISIS militant groups.

On Monday, a Filipino military official announced in a news conference that some militants in Marawi have hinted that they might surrender soon. "Hopefully, we will have surrenders within the next days," said Colonel Romeo Brawner.

The Philippine military has reported that some 655 militants, 45 civilians and 145 soldiers and policemen have died in the fighting in Marawi and at least 400,000 people have been displaced from their homes.

The U.S. government has increased its military aid to the Philippines, providing over US$300 million worth of assistance to establish better command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities for the country's armed forces.

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