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Philippines Wants To Make Peace With Communist Insurgents So It Can Focus On Obliterating ISIS

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The Philippines is halting its battle against communist insurgents to focus on obliterating the Islamic State, which has laid siege to the southern city of Marawi.

Philippine negotiator Silvestre Bello III said Sunday in a statement that the government is hoping for a ceasefire and peace agreement with the New People’s Army, a communist insurgent group, the Associated Press reports.

“The Philippine government hereby correspondingly reciprocates with the same declaration of not undertaking offensive operations against the New People’s Army,” Bello said.

Since May 23, government troops have been fighting ISIS-aligned militants in Marawi, which has a mostly Muslim population of 200,000 and is situated on the island of Mindanao.

Shortly after the fighting broke out at the beginning of Ramadan, President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on the island, but the battle is still raging. So far, 242 militants, 56 government soldiers and police and 26 civilians have been killed. The city itself has also been pounded by airstrikes.

U.S. special forces have stepped in to assist the military but at this point only in the context of technical support. American troops are providing a spy plane and drones to determine positions of ISIS fighters, who have aggressively targeted Christians.

Communist rebels have proved to be a distraction in liberating Marawi. Philippine troops engaged communist rebels Saturday, killing five in the south, and communists broke into a police station and stole weapons. Norway has tried to broker negotiations between both sides, but those talks broke down last month. This time, the Philippines government is seriously hoping to end the violence between the military and communist insurgents, as the battle in Marawi continues to rage.

According to a presidential spokesman, it will take at least two more weeks to clear Marawi of ISIS fighters.

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