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Defense chief Lorenzana declares end of fighting in Marawi City

The Philippines declared on Monday an end to five months of fierce urban warfare in a southern city held by pro-Islamic State militants, a battle that has marked the country's biggest security crisis in years.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said combat operations had been terminated, after troops prevailed in the last stand against gunmen who clung on inside several buildings in the heart of Marawi City.

"There are no more militants in Marawi," he told reporters in Clark on the sidelines of a meeting of regional defense ministers.

"After 154 days of siege by Maute ISIS group, after a week since the Commander-in-chief (Duterte) declared the liberation of Marawi, we now announce the termination of all military operations in Marawi," he added.

He said government security forces have nipped the budding infrastructure and defeated terrorism in the country.

"In crushing thus far the most serious attempt to export violent extremism and radicalism in the Philippines and in the region, we have contributed to preventing its spread in Asia and gave our share to maintaining global peace, stability, and security," he said.

Lorenzana said that while the success will not annihilate the ideology of ISIS completely, the achievement is a clear manifestation of how the regional cooperation can lead to a decisive advance against the proliferation of terrorism.

Automatic gunfire

Reuters journalists in Marawi City heard automatic gunfire and artillery throughout Monday morning.

Military spokesman, Major General Restituto Padilla, confirmed there was still gunfire in the city, but there were "no more terrorists" in Marawi. He did not elaborate.

Padilla said the troops tried to convince the remaining rebels to surrender, but they refused. Two wives of fighters were among those killed.

The siege has stunned the Philippines and stoked wider concerns that Islamic State loyalists have ambitions to make the Muslim areas of the island of Mindanao a base for operations in Southeast Asia.

Those fears are compounded by the rebels' ability to recruit young fighters, stockpile huge amounts of arms and endure 154 days of ground offensive and government air strikes that have devastated the city.

Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año said at least 42 bodies of rebels were found on Monday in two buildings and a mosque in the battle zone.

Colonel Romeo Brawner Jr., Task Force Ranao deputy commander, said a total of 920 Maute members have been killed while 165, on the part of the government, perished.

"The 165 includes two bodies recovered yesterday. It is sad to note that the bodies of soldiers that we recovered were burned or mangled. ‘Yung isang katawan ay nasunog, yung isang katawan ay pinugutan ng ulo," Brawner said at a press conference in Marawi City.

The military has made significant gains in retaking Marawi in the week since Isnilon Hapilon, Islamic State's "emir" in Southeast Asia and Omarkhayam Maute, a leader of the Maute militant group, were killed in a nighttime operation.

Another leader and possible bankroller of the operation, Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad, was likely killed also, the military said.

Lorenzana said there would be other military operations and six battalions of troops would remain in Marawi. He did not elaborate on those operations. — Reuters with Amita Legaspi/RSJ, GMA News