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Philippine army finds $2.2 million abandoned by Marawi rebels

MARAWI Philippine troops found bundles of banknotes and cheques worth about S$2.2 million abandoned by militants holed up in the southern city of Marawi, a discovery the military said yesterday was proof that the fighters were pulling back.

Fighters linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have been cornered in a built-up sliver of the southern lakeside town after two weeks of intense combat.

The military said it had retaken several buildings.

In one house, it found a vault loaded with stacks of money worth 52.2 million Philippine pesos and cheques made out for cash worth 27 million Philippine pesos.

"The recovery of the... cash indicates that they are running because the government troops are pressing in and focusing on destroying them," Marine Major Rowan Rimas said in the town.

Mr Jo-Ar Herrera, a military spokesman, said the discovery of the stash of banknotes and cheques was evidence that the militants had links to international terrorist groups.

However, he added that an investigation was needed to establish the facts.

It is possible that the money came from a bank that was raided on the first day of the siege.

Mr Herrera had told Reuters last week that a branch of Landbank had been attacked and he had heard that one of its vaults was opened.

The battle for Marawi has raised concerns that ISIS is building a regional base on the Philippine island of Mindanao.

Officials said that among the hundreds of militants who seized the city on May 23, there were about 40 foreigners from countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Chechnya.

The fighters prepared for a long siege, stockpiling arms and food in tunnels, basements, mosques and madrasas, military officials said.

The Philippines is largely Christian, but Marawi City is overwhelmingly Muslim.

Progress in the military campaign has been slow because hundreds of civilians are still trapped or being held hostage in the town, officials have said.

"In a few days... we will be able to clear Marawi," armed forces chief of staff General Eduardo Ano said in an interview.

He said an estimated 100 Maute militants were holding out, and the military was checking on a report that one of its founding leaders, Omar Maute, had been killed in an air strike. - REUTERS

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