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International relations

Duterte cancels Japan trip as Mindanao siege continues

Military evaluating martial law extension after 100 killed

CLIFF VENZON, Nikkei staff writer

MANILA -- Military operations on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao targeting militants aligned with the Islamic State group have approached their second week amid rising numbers of casualties. The country's armed forces said nearly a hundred had been killed as of Sunday night. On Monday, the deteriorating situation prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to cancel a visit to Tokyo next week, a source said.

Marawi City in central Mindanao has been in lock-down since May 23, when a clash between government troops and fighters affiliated with the Maute group began. The same day, Duterte declared martial law for the entire island, parts of which are controlled by other armed Islamic groups such as Abu Sayyaf and communist guerrillas.

Duterte last week said the 60-day period of martial law could be shortened, prolonged, or expanded nationwide depending on the situation, fueling fears of human rights abuses and summary killings, which were rampant during martial rule from 1972 to 1981.

Little sign of improvement has been seen on the island. Army spokesperson Restituto Padilla on Monday said sympathizers in Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city, and some of the over 100 prisoners who escaped after a jail was set alight by militants may have joined Maute, complicating the operations.

It has been announced that 61 militants, 15 government troops, and 19 civilians have been killed amid the clashes. Marawi residents have been evacuated to cities nearby, while the army has conducted "surgical air strikes" targeting the groups.

Padilla added that the siege is expected to end soon, but could not give a precise timeline. "Our ground commanders have assured [us] that the end is almost there so we hope to get clear results, we have complete control of the city," Padilla said in a televised briefing.

He said the army is still assessing whether or not martial law should be extended.

Given the intensifying situation, the president was urged to cancel his trip to Tokyo. Duterte has remained in Mindanao since cutting short a trip to Russia last Wednesday.

Duterte was supposed to deliver the closing speech at Nikkei's 23rd Conference on the Future of Asia on June 6. A meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a promotional event for Duterte's infrastructure program, dubbed "Dutertenomics," were also being worked out.

It would have been Duterte's second visit to Tokyo after making the first in October. Abe made a reciprocal trip last January.

Nikkei staff writer Jun Endo contributed to this report.

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