Commentary by Don Pathan
Last Friday, Thai Army Commander-in-chief Gen. Chalermchai Sitthisart visited security checkpoints in Cho I-rong, a district in Narathiwat province designated as the site of a potential “Safety Zone,” or limited ceasefire, in the insurgency-stricken region known as the Deep South.
The Philippine government sought to assure the public Thursday that Marawi residents who were displaced during last year’s siege by pro-Islamic State militants would return to their homes this year amid concerns over slow rebuilding efforts.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters in Marawi that the government’s top priority is to restore normalcy to the lives of at least 200,000 residents affected by five months of vicious gun battles that left at least 1,200 dead and left much of the once-prosperous Islamic city in ruins.
Hashima Mohammed Salim recently convened a meeting of members of her clan who lost relatives after militants allied to the Islamic State (IS) laid siege to the southern Philippine city of Marawi a year ago.
They had to make a decision – and quick – because what little money they had saved was dwindling fast and aid agencies were delivering less assistance every week, she recalled. After a brief huddle, they made a painful decision.
Amin Masoodi - Srinagar, India
Authorities beefed up security in Indian Kashmir on Monday after 17 people were killed in gun battles and attacks over the weekend, including a university professor-turned suspected militant, and more than 100 were injured in protests.
But the situation remained tense as at least a dozen anti-India protesters were injured in fresh street clashes on Monday in south Kashmir’s Shopian district.
Froilan Gallardo and Jeoffrey Maitem
Marawi and Cotabato City, Philippines
Minority Christians uprooted by last year’s bloody siege of Marawi city by pro-Islamic State gunmen say they are reluctant to return there, while a spate of militant attacks has hit the southern Philippines as the anniversary of the takeover approaches.
The most recent attacks – all within the past three days – involved the abduction of four people, including two policewomen, and the killing of three soldiers by forces loyal to slain Filipino IS leader Isnilon Hapilon, the military said.
Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
A father and his infant daughter were killed and three others, including two children, were wounded during a weekend attack in the southern Philippines that police and military officials on Monday blamed on militants linked to the Islamic State (IS).
Superintendent Gilbert Tuzon, the local police chief, alleged that Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) fighters opened fire on a cluster of wooden homes in the southern town of Midsayap on Sunday, killing Musa Sayang and his 7-month-old daughter Malaiha.
By Victor Mambor
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited his country’s easternmost Papua province on Thursday, two months after a measles-and-malnutrition outbreak killed more than 70 children in the area that is home to one of the world’s biggest gold mines.
Accompanied by first lady Iriana, Jokowi arrived at Agats port in Asmat on a military helicopter, becoming Indonesia’s first leader to visit the impoverished regency.
During a meeting with local officials, Jokowi expressed his concerns about the threat of malnutrition among children.
By Richel V. Umel and Froilan Gallardo
Almost 1,000 displaced Filipino families have been allowed back into battle-scarred Marawi city to check their homes under tight military security over the past few days, but unexploded bombs strewn amid the rubble have limited their movements.
On Wednesday, BenarNews reporters and journalists from other media outlets accompanied some of the families that have been trickling into the former war zone in batches since April 1.
By Mariyam Ahmad
Military program that encourages insurgents in Thailand’s Deep South to surrender has been a source of friction lately in peace talks between the Thai government and a panel negotiating on behalf of rebel groups in three-year-old peace talks.
The MARA Patani panel issued a rare statement last week to clear up any “confusion or misunderstanding” that may have arisen in recent weeks.
Froilan Gallardo and Richel V. Umel
Marawi City, Philippines
After nearly a year of waiting, thousands of displaced residents of Marawi will soon be allowed to visit what’s left of their homes in the “main battle area” of the southern Philippine city and retrieve abandoned belongings, officials said Friday.
About 11,163 people have been identified as residents of the war zone and will be allowed to return in batches, starting on April 1, said Felix Castro, field manager of Task Force Bangon Marawi.
Mark Navales and Jeoffrey Maitem
Police seized dozens of firearms and arrested two retired soldiers and seven others during an anti-terrorist sweep in the southern Philippines over the weekend, as security forces pursued pro-Islamic State (IS) militants, officials said Tuesday.
Jeoffrey Maitem, Froilan Gallardo and Felipe Villamor
Men, women and children are returning to the lakeshore city of Marawi in trickles to find their homes damaged after a five-month battle with Islamic State-backed militants officially declared over on Oct. 23.
The Philippine military has spray-painted “cleared” on buildings the militants had taken over but were eventually dislodged from during the fighting in the southern Philippine city. Still, close to 40 militants are holed up in the ruins of a section of the city, the army said.
By Jeoffrey Maitem and Richel V. Umel
Fresh fighting erupted Thursday between government forces and more than three dozen militant stragglers in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, officials said, 10 days after the Philippines declared an end to a five-month battle there with pro-Islamic State gunmen.
Nontarat Phaicharoen and Mariyam Ahmad
Two-year-old negotiations with southern rebels will proceed despite reports suggesting that the peace process likely has stalled, Thailand’s chief negotiator said Wednesday.
But an insurgent in the troubled Deep South told BenarNews that rebel attacks would go on anyhow, and in spite of talks aimed at implementing a limited ceasefire.
By Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Islamic books, hundreds of bullet cartridges and toy guns littered what was left of ground-zero of a five-month battle that killed more than 1,200 people and drew the world’s attention to a regional alliance of Southeast Asian and foreign militants in the southern Philippines.
By Froilan Gallardo and Jeoffrey Maitem
Schoolteacher Baicona Hassan wept openly on Thursday when she saw what remained of her two-story home in a ruined section of Marawi city in the southern Philippines.
Her house had been looted and left in disarray, and its bullet-riddled walls were barely standing in Basak Malotlot, a district that absorbed some of the heaviest fighting after Islamic State-linked gunmen went on a rampage in May. This week, the Philippine government declared the five-month siege by the militants over.
The Philippines ended a five-month long security crisis with a final assault Monday on a building held by pro-Islamic State (IS) fighters in Marawi, killing 42 militants, including five foreigners, government officials said.
The siege of the southern Philippine city launched by IS-linked militants on May 23 left 1,132 enemy combatants, soldiers and civilians dead, flattened buildings and displaced more than 200,000 residents, officials said.
By Jeoffrey Maitem and Froilan Gallardo
Local officials in the war-torn Philippine city of Marawi buried at least 40 unclaimed bodies on Thursday, after American forensics experts completed gathering DNA samples to determine their identities.
No relatives came forward to claim the bodies, leading authorities to believe they were among hundreds of pro-Islamic State (IS) militants killed during a battle with Philippine government forces in the southern city that has lasted more than four months.
Froilan Gallardo and Jeoffrey Maitem
Philippine troops rescued 17 hostages, including a group of university teachers, after soldiers penetrated the final defensive positions of their Islamic State-backed (IS) enemies in the southern city of Marawi, officials said Wednesday.
The group included five teachers of Dansalan College, according to military officials, who said at least 40 others remained in the hands of the militants.
Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
The Philippine military voiced optimism Monday that it would soon clear the southern city of Marawi of Islamic State-backed militants, as its forces recovered a third bridge vital to the rebels’ defensive positions and rescued four more hostages.
In Marawi, regional military chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez presented to the press ex-hostages Abdul Naser Ergas Mangondaya, Kiram Datu Dakula Ampatua, Abdullah Nixon Rakiin and Lordvin Acopio.