The battle on-going in the Philippines has taken an ugly turn as the rebels holding the city of Malawi are resorting to tactics that have been seen in other places. Local residents are being forced to fight government troops, loot homes of valuables and serve as sex slaves for the rebel forces.

On Tuesday, military leaders cited residents of Marawi City who either escaped or were rescued and 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.

The claims by the residents haven’t been confirmed by third parties but there is no doubting that the suffering of the citizens has been high since the battle commenced.

The government ruled out negotiations after reports that Abdullah Maute, one of two brothers who formed the militant group carrying their name, wanted to trade a Catholic priest hostage for his parents arrested earlier this month.

The military said on Saturday Abdullah Maute had fled.

Taking advantage of a short truce to mark the Eid al-Fitr Islamic holiday, eight Muslim leaders met briefly on Sunday with Maute. The Philippine Daily Inquirer said he had asked for his father, Cayamora Maute, and influential businesswoman mother, Farhana Maute, to be freed, in a swap for Father Teresito “Chito” Soganub.

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But presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said deals with militants were against government policy, and anyone trying to bargain had no authority to do so.

“The local religious leader-led talks with terrorists last Sunday was one not sanctioned,” Abella told reporters.

“Any demands made inside, therefore, hold no basis. Let us remind the public, the gravity of the terrorists and their supporters’ offences is immense.”

The military’s public relations machine has been insisting that the rebel leadership was crumbling, saying top commanders had escaped or were killed in action, and the group was fraught with infighting, even executing their own men for wanting to surrender.

Military officers, however, accept they lack solid proof of such developments and were working to verify intelligence reports.

The army said there were reported sightings of the departure from the battle of Isnilon Hapilon, Islamic State’s anointed Southeast Asian “emir”, which Abella said showed he was not committed to his cause.

Thus far, official figures show 70 troops, 27 civilians and 290 militants have since been killed and 246,000 people displaced since the battle began in May.

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Photo courtesy SOFREP