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Philippines

Filipino bishop leaves captive priest's fate in govt hands

Troops continue to mop up as noose tightens around besieged terrorist gunmen in Marawi

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Published: June 28, 2017 09:09 AM GMT

Updated: June 28, 2017 10:52 AM GMT

Filipino bishop leaves captive priest's fate in govt hands

Security forces continue to recover ground in their attempt to root out terrorist gunmen from the southern Philippine city of Marawi. (Photo by Mark Navales)

 

The Catholic bishop of the besieged city of Marawi in the southern Philippines said he is leaving it to the government whether to negotiate or not for the release of a captive priest in the hands of terrorist gunmen.

Bishop Edwin dela Pena of the Prelature of Marawi made the announcement after several rescued hostages said Father Teresito Soganub, who was abducted on May 23, was still alive.

"It is the government’s call to decide to enter to negotiations or not," said the prelate. "Let us all just wait for the government's next move," he said, adding that, "the ball is in [the government's] court."

The Islamic State-inspired Maute terror group, that has occupied the city of Marawi for more than a month, took Father Soganub, the vicar general of Marawi, and several church workers hostage.

Bishop dela Pena said the report that the priest was still alive "is good news for us," but reminded people not to forget the other hostages "whom we also know."

A group of emissaries who talked with the terrorists on June 25 said the gunmen offered to release the priest in exchange for the freedom of the arrested parents of the Maute brothers, the leaders of the local terror group.

The government reiterated its policy "not to negotiate with terrorists."

Bishop dela Pena said he appreciated the efforts of some Muslim leaders to save Father Soganub and the other hostages, but said it is not for him to decide.

Some 100 civilians are reportedly in the hands of the terrorist gunmen and are being used as "human shields."

The Philippine military announced on June 27 that government forces have cut off the logistical and medical route of the terrorists still holed up in the city.

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Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the siege will be over soon. "Just a moment and this will be over," he said in a radio interview.

Lorenzana said the fighting has claimed the lives of some 290 terrorist gunmen, 90 soldiers and policemen, and 27 civilians.

A military spokesman in Marawi, said government forces continue to re-take ground in the ongoing operations.

"There is an increasing recovery and control of strategic vantage points by advancing troops," he said, adding that 39 structures previously occupied by the terrorists were recovered over the past days.

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