MANILA - The military encountered Maute extremists in Lanao del Sur province twice over the weekend as the Islamic State-inspired militants recruited new members, a military spokesman said Monday.
It was the first clashes since government troops retook Marawi City from the Maute group in October last year and ended 5 months of fighting, said Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Task Force Ranao.
"Ito po iyung mga nakatakas [mula sa Marawi]. Ang activity po nila ngayon, nagre-recruit sila ng mga members nila at nagti-training po sila," he told radio DZMM.
(These are the ones who escaped from Marawi. They are currently recruiting and training new members.)
The first clash erupted on Saturday after government forces encountered some 10 Maute gunmen in Masiu town. Six soldiers were wounded in the incident, the military had said.
Troops recovered a cache of bullets, several Islamic State flags and illegal drug materials from the area, said Brawner.
Two soldiers were wounded in a second firefight in Pagayawan town on Sunday, he said.
"Ang maganda po rito, nagre-report po iyung mga kababayan natin. Siguro ayaw na nilang maulit ang nangyari sa Marawi City... Halos araw-araw may nagre-report na may nakita silang mga armadong Maute rito, nagti-training dito, nagre-recruit dito," Brawner said.
(The good this here is that the public reports Maute sightings. Perhaps they do not want a repeat of what happened in Marawi. We receive reports of Maute sightings, training and recruitment almost everyday.)
The military in October declared victory over the Maute group, which seized control in Marawi on May 23. More than 1,100 people, including 165 soldiers, died in the 5-month conflict.
The military is still searching for bombs in Marawi's main battle zone, which remained closed to civilians, said Brawner.
The siege of Marawi, the country's biggest security crisis in years, has stoked wider concerns that ISIS loyalists have learned how to thrive in impoverished Muslim areas of the island of Mindanao and use its jungles and mountains as staging posts to launch attacks.
President Rodrigo Duterte has extended martial law for all of this year in Mindanao, an island he called a "flashpoint for trouble" and atrocities by Islamist and communist rebels. With a report from Reuters