World

Marawi captives forced to fight, loot and serve as sex slaves

MARAWI CITY: Civilians held hostage by militants occupying the southern Philippine city have been forced by their captors to loot homes, take up arms against government troops and serve as sex slaves for rebel fighters, the army said yesterday.

Citing accounts of seven Marawi City residents who either escaped or were rescued, the military said some hostages were forced to convert to Islam, carry wounded fighters to mosques, and marry militants of the Maute group loyal to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"They are being forced to be sex slaves," military spokesman Jo-Ar Herrera said. "These are evil personalities."

Their accounts, which could not be immediately verified, are the latest harrowing stories to come out of the conflict zone. The military has been unable to penetrate the area for five weeks, as well-armed and organised rebels fought off soldiers with sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Some escapees say bodies of residents have been left in the streets, some for weeks, and civilians are distressed by government air strikes and artillery bombardments that have reduced parts of Marawi to rubble.

The protracted seizure has worried the region about the extent to which ISIS' agenda may have gained traction in southern Philippines, which is more used to banditry, piracy and separatism than radical Islam.

The rebels' combat capability, access to heavy weapons and use of foreign fighters has raised fears that Marawi could just be the start of a wider campaign. - REUTERS

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