Philippines: jihadists force children to fight

China, India vow to support Philippines' recovery from Marawi battle

The death toll in the 49-day siege of the southern Philippine city of Marawi has topped 500, as Islamist militants reportedly force children and hostages to fight alongside them.

"So suffice to say there was a bomb run or an airstrike that was conducted, one bomb not hitting the target, three others were proximate to the target and were efficiently employed, and except that one bomb, we would like to find out what caused it to fall short of target", Padilla added.

"As disturbing as it is, our troops are doing their best to avoid any casualty among these children that are being employed", he said.

"But in the event ... they bear arms and are involved in the fighting, there is nothing much we can do ... similarly to the hostages who are being forced". And I was the one who ordered the Armed Forces and the police to go there and fight and die.

Fighters claiming to be from the group islamic State (EI) held since may 23, and in some districts of Marawi, the largest muslim city of the archipelago, in a catholic majority.

Shortly after seizing Marawi gunmen took at least a dozen hostages, including a Catholic priest.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said 381 militants, 90 soldiers and policemen and 39 civilians have been killed in the fierce street-to-street fighting. "They have contradicted the fundamental tenets of Islam by abducting, maiming and killing the innocent", said the bishops, who appealed for help for displaced residents, especially those who are not yet adequately served.

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To date, hundreds of civilians are still trapped in the ongoing gunfight.

And almost 400,000 people fled their homes.

The fighting in the largely Muslim town in the south of the predominantly Christian Philippines has alarmed regional neighbours, fearful that the IS is bent on gaining a foothold in the region as it loses ground in the Middle East.

"We are working to liberate Marawi City at the soonest time possible, however, we heard the President mention that we may need 10 to 12 days, 10 to 15 days and we will try to meet that", Padilla noted, referring to the 15-day deadline set by President Duterte earlier.

The conflict led Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law on the entire island of Mindanao, where some 20 million people live.

"But remember the new scourge is ISIS, it will continue to haunt us", he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group, in a speech before business executives.

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