MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday asked Congress to extend martial law on the southern island of Mindanao until the end of the year, to grant him time to crush a rebel movement inspired by the Islamic State group.
The region of 22 million people, which has a history of separatist and Marxist rebellion, was placed under military rule on May 23 after rebels from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups took over parts of Marawi City, plunging the Philippines into its biggest security crisis in years.
Insurgents have put up fierce resistance, with scores of fighters still holed up in central Marawi after 57 days of government ground offensives, air strikes and artillery bombardments, in a battle authorities say has killed 413 militants, 98 members of the security forces and 45 civilians.
“The primary objective of the possible extension is to allow our forces to continue with their operations unhampered by deadlines and to focus more on the liberation of Marawi and its rehabilitation and rebuilding,” said presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, reading a letter signed by Duterte.
A hardcore of gunmen were on Tuesday clinging on to positions in a deserted commercial heart, which has been reduced to rubble by a bombing campaign that has angered residents with no homes or businesses to return to.
Duterte has appointed a taskforce to rebuild Marawi, with a 20 billion peso ($394.81 million) budget.
The brazen assault by organized, heavily armed militants who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State has fanned fears that extremists may have radicalized and recruited more fighters than was previously thought.
The Marawi siege is the fourth battle between the Maute clan and the military over the past nine months and the country’s defense minister, Delfin Lorenzana, has admitted the combat and planning capability of the enemy has been underestimated.
Lorenzana on Tuesday met Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen, who offered the Philippines urban…