Updated: June 15, 2017 12:24 PM GMT
Women from Marawi appeal to the government and to terrorist gunmen still occupying parts of the city to listen to the "voice of the people" and stop fighting during a meeting with journalists in Iligan City on June 15. (Photo by Joe Torres)
Muslim religious and civil leaders in the southern Philippine city of Marawi appealed to the government on June 15 to resolve in a "civilized manner" the conflict that has besieged the city for four weeks now.
More than 200,000 people have fled the city since fighting between security forces and terrorist gunmen claiming to have links with the so-called Islamic State group erupted on May 23.
"The socio-economic and religious activities of our people have been tremendously affected," said Abdul Hamidullah Atar, the sultan of Marawi.
He said the crisis could have been prevented if President Rodrigo Duterte listened to "traditional and religious leaders" before declaring war against the terrorist group.
"We could have influenced these radical people, however our voice was never recognized by the government," said Atar in a letter dated June 15 and addressed to Duterte.
In their letter to the president, the Muslim leaders said "conflicts" among clans and tribes in Mindanao are resolved "using traditional negotiation."
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by ucanews.com, show that 18 other tribal leaders had signified their agreement with Atar.
Referring to the local terrorist Maute group, the Muslim leaders said, "the radical people in some way respect the elders of a clan."
"We would like to convey to you that war is not an option," read the letter to the president.
"Mr. President, all of us condemn the act of terrorism in any form but we need you also to listen," it added.
Duterte has declared martial law across the southern Philippine region of Mindanao after the Maute group attacked and occupied a large part of Marawi on May 23.
Muslim civil leader Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, meanwhile, appealed to the warring sides to observe a ceasefire to allow trapped civilians to escape the war zone.
"Please give life a chance. The fight to liberate Marawi out of radical ideology is long term, and it must not be at the expense of civilian lives," said Tomawis.
Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said at least 1,000 civilians remained trapped.
More than 200,000 individuals have reportedly fled to safer areas since hostilities started.
A total of 132 public and private schools, 22,000 students, and 2,200 teaching staff in Marawi have been affected by the fighting.
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