MARAWI (AP) – About 100 bodies of civilians and Islamic militants remain uncollected in the rubble of Marawi because of continuing fighting between troops and gunmen aligned with the Islamic State group, an official said Thursday.
Provincial government crisis committee spokesman Zia Alonto Adiong said the estimate was based on accounts by residents who have escaped from areas of Marawi City that are still mired in clashes, and aid volunteers who entered a combat zone during a four-day lull in the fighting last week.
Retrieval teams have been organized although it remains unclear when the siege by the remaining militants, estimated to number more than 100, can be quelled by troops, Adiong said. The stench of death has been reported by witnesses in still-inaccessible areas since militants launched their attack on May 23.
“We need to expect the worst and to be ready to transition from a crisis mode to a recovery mode,” Adiong told The Associated Press by telephone.
The violence in the lakeside city has left 202 gunmen, 58 soldiers and policemen and 26 civilians dead, officials say. The most serious attack in Southeast Asia so far by IS-aligned militants has displaced most of the more than 200,000 residents of Marawi, the bastion of Islamic faith in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
Many of the militants reportedly killed in the clashes have not been recovered.
While the remaining gunmen have been isolated in four areas, sporadic gunfire has been reported in other places.
An Australian journalist was hit by a bullet in his neck on Thursday while covering the Marawi crisis. ABC journalist Adam Harvey, who was wearing a neck brace, told reporters he was fine as he walked out of a hospital.
Harvey, ABC’s Jakarta-based Southeast Asia correspondent, was hit at a provincial government compound in Marawi while interviewing children from families displaced by the fighting.
The sprawling compound near an army brigade has served as a venue for daily news conferences by government and military officials and is regarded as a relatively safe area.
The Australian newsman is now recovering very well at the Makati Medical Center to remove the bullet that nearly hit his carotid artery.
Dr. Emmanuel Ibay performed the one-hour operation to remove the bullet.
“It stopped 1cm from the carotid artery. ‘Home run’ if it hit,” said Harvey.
Meantime, 11 more bodies recovered from this besieged city were buried Thursday in a public cemetery in Iligan City.
Authorities decided to bury the remains after no relatives came to claim the bodies who were also photographed and will be used should anyone make a claim on the cadavers.
They are all buried in a graveyard that bore no name.