Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says the country will not allow Daesh Takfiri terrorists to escape the country’s southern city of Marawi in return for release of dozens of hostages they hold.
"No way," Duterte told reporters in response to a question about a report that the Takfiri group’s local leader Omarkhayam Maute has offered to free an estimated number of 20 to 30 hostages in Marawi in exchange for the safe exit of the militants.
"If I can save one life there, I am willing to wait one year (to retake the city)" Duterte said in Cagayan de Oro, a few hours away from Marawi.
In May, the militants captured large parts of Marawi on the island of Mindanao and managed to continue the occupation of the city, despite over 100 days of airstrikes and ground attacks by government troops.
According to the army, nearly 655 militants, 45 civilians and 145 soldiers and policemen have been killed in Marawi, while 1,728 civilians have been rescued. At least 400,000 have been displaced.
The military has launched its final push to recapture Marawi, which has been devastated by artillery and bombings, as troops try to secure buildings and navigate through mines and booby traps.
The army says the Takfiri militants are forcing some of the hostages to take up arms against the government troops.
The army has imposed martial law on Mindanao Island, which is home to 22 million people, until the end of 2017, in an attempt to prevent formation of an alliance between Daesh and other militant groups.
Army spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo said rescuing the hostages will be the top priority for the army, adding, "We are still very mindful of the presence of civilians - guns against their heads - who were made human shields or ordered to wield firearms and ammunition, were converted to become fighters and shoot at our troops.”
Security officials say terrorist groups in the region have pledged allegiance to Daesh in order to increase their military influence in Muslim-populated areas in Southeast Asia.
Governments across Southeast Asia have been on high alert since terrorists from local militant groups, which have pledged allegiance to Daesh, overran Marawi.