Manila – Islamic militants are holding 300 hostages in besieged Marawi City in the southern Philippines, preventing government forces from launching a major assault to end the eight-week conflict, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday.
Duterte said he has told the military not to launch an attack that could endanger the lives of the hostages held by the militants in Marawi, 800 kilometres south of Manila.
“They have 300 hostages, and I said, we’ll just have to wait it out,” he told an investment forum in his southern home city of Davao. “Do not attack. If you do, they might begin to behead the people there.”
“No assault there,” he added. “If we have to wait for one year, let’s wait for one year.”
The conflict in Marawi began on May 23 when an estimated 600 militants went on a rampage after government forces attempted to arrest a local leader of the Islamic State terrorist organization.
The crisis has left more than 600 people dead, including nearly 100 government forces and 421 militants. Forty-five civilians have been executed by the terrorists while 40 displaced residents have died from illness.
Duterte declared a 60-day period of martial law in the southern region of Mindanao as a result of the siege and has asked Congress to extend the decree until December 31 to allow troops to completely crush the threats posed by Islamic State.
Congress is scheduled to hold a special session on Saturday to deliberate and vote on Duterte’s request.