Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has rejected an offer by IS-inspired rebels to release Marawi prelature vicar-general Father Teresito "Chito" Soganub and other hostages in exchange for safe passage out of the southern Philippine city. Duterte told journalists on Sept. 9 that his peace adviser Jesus Dureza had asked a former mayor to talk with leaders of the rebels. The president, however, took the advice of armed forces officials, who have lost more than 100 soldiers in more than three months of fighting. Military officials said militants have kept the hostages alive throughout the heavy aerial bombardment and intense fighting. Around 50 fighters are still battling the military in a shrinking pocket in Marawi 112 days after fighting first broke out. Government plans to normalize life in the war torn city suffered a setback last week, when stray bullets killed a government official and wounded another near the state university, which had resumed classes recently. Duterte admitted over the weekend that he expects the southern island to remain a flash point of conflict and terrorism. "There will be no peace in Mindanao for a long time," the president told an island-wide business conference on Sept. 9. "What is happening in Marawi seems to have stretched the trouble farther than we expected," the president said. The United States has beefed up military aid to the Philippines. The US embassy in Manila announced on, Sept 11, the deployment of Gray Eagle drones, which extends flight duration and broadens the range of surveillance over the city. More than 800 people have died in three and a half months of fighting sparked by a botched attempt to arrest Isnilon Hapilon of the Abu Sayyaf group, the IS' local ally. The conflict displaced close to half a million residents and transient traders. The US has provided the Philippines with over US$300 million worth of assistance to establish better command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities for the Philippine armed forces. The embassy said the US government to respond quickly to the Philippines' urgent defense and counter-terrorism needs.
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