The Philippine military on Monday expressed concern over reports that extremists in Marawi are forcing civilian hostages and children to fight government troops in the Islamic city.
Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said there have been pieces of evidence to support claims by rescued civilians that the Maute have been training children to fight alongside adult members of their group.
These children are typically in their teenage years, Padilla said.
"So itong mga minors na ito ay maaaring kamag-anak nila o mismong anak nung mga ibang miyembro ng grupong ito. Dito sa Marawi, may mga indikasyon at may mga nakikita na ganitong pangyayari. At maaaring ang mga nakasama diyan ay bukod dun sa mga na-train na dati sa ibang lugar. Maaaring isinama rin diyan 'yung ilan," Padilla said.
He said government troops are doing their best to avoid casualties from the children and hostages.
"Sa mga bakbakan, 'pag may nasugatan, at nakita mong bata 'yan, hindi ho --- tutulungan kaagad-agad 'yan. At hindi po kami nagmamadaling barilin ang batang tumatakbo maski may dalang armas. Kung kakayanin natin idi-disable lang, pero hindi siya papatayin," he said.
Militants took over parts of Marawi, considered the Muslim capital of the largely Catholic Philippines, on May 23 in a bid to create an Islamic State province.
Shortly after the start of the siege, Marawi gunmen took at least a dozen hostages, including a Catholic priest. Some of the estimated 300 other civilians still trapped in the area may have also been taken captive, said Padilla.
The military earlier said civilians had been forced to help the gunmen by carrying supplies and ammunition, bearing their wounded and even helping them loot the city.
More than 500 people have been killed in the fighting, including 89 soldiers and police, 39 civilians and 379 militants, according to figures released by the government on Monday.
Nearly 400,000 civilians have fled their homes.
Daily air strikes and artillery barrages against militant snipers who control tall buildings have left Marawi's central business district a ghost town.
President Rodrigo Duterte last month vowed to "crush" the militants but several government-set deadlines to end the conflict have already been missed.
The fighting also prompted Duterte to declare martial law over the entire southern Philippines.
Padilla on Monday expressed hope that the fighting would soon be concluded.
"We continue to gain headway with our operations on the ground," he said. With reports by Pia Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News, and Agence France Presse