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Politics

After Marawi, no room for complacency

The Philippine government must follow military victory over Islamist terrorists with renewed peace moves

| Philippines
Local government workers and soldiers walk past a battle-damaged town hall in Marawi on Oct. 19 after government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic State militant groups.   © Reuters

It seemed like a significant defeat for terrorism. In the week that the Philippine armed forces declared the besieged northern Mindanao city of Marawi liberated, the Islamic State in Syria lost its key stronghold in the city of Raqqa. For Marawi was the shocking mirror image of Raqqa in Southeast Asia. Pictures of Marawi's devastated, shell-pocked buildings can easily be mistaken for drone-filmed scenes over Raqqa. Raqqa's population has mostly fled; many of Marawi's 200,000 inhabitants are living in nearby grimy refugee camps.

While the fall of Raqqa may signal the defeat of IS in Syria, there is little to celebrate in Marawi as troops mop up the last of the motley band of militants who seized the city in the name of IS in May, raising black flags and declaring an outpost of the Islamic caliphate. The fear is that with the government's failure to implement a formal peace agreement on autonomy in Muslim-dominated areas of Christian-majority Mindanao, the moderate Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed the agreement in 2014, may then lose more legitimacy and create new opportunities for militant splinter groups to garner support using imported Islamic extremist tactics and ideology.

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