ILIGAN CITY -- Two members of the Islamic State-linked Maute Group surrendered to government troops in the Lanao del Sur town of Butig on Thursday, an Army official said.
Lt. Col. Edgar Allan Villanueva, commanding officer of the Army's 49th Infantry Battalion, said the two Maute remnants, one of whom was a minor, surrendered following the military's "focused-military operations" in the adjacent municipality of Sultan Dumalandong.
Villanueva was referring to Thursday's encounter in Sultan Dumalandong that killed three Maute members and wounded three soldiers.
He identified the surrenderers only as Ashlani, 34, and Hussein, 17, who were reportedly recruited and trained by the Maute Group in Butig sometime in 2013.
He quoted Ashlani as saying in the dialect, "We were afraid we will get caught in the next (military) operation. We have nowhere to run so we opted to surrender."
Ashlani and Hussein's surrender was facilitated with the help of the local community, the Army official said.
“We have intensified our civil-military operations to build a good rapport with the populace in the area,” Villanueva said.
“Out here, it is not just about fighting the enemy, but also how to win communities – and that truly makes a big impact when it comes to the accomplishing our mission,” he added.
Col. Romeo Brawner, commander of the Army's 103rd Brigade based in Marawi City, said the influx of Maute returnees -- now numbering more than a hundred -- has prompted the military to "initiate a special program" for Maute remnants.
The Maute Group launched a five-month siege on Marawi City last year that ended with its top leaders being wiped out by government forces.
Brawner said the integration program for former Maute members "will start with comprehensive profiling of our returnees to know their background, identify their needs and vulnerabilities. It also includes interviews as to why they joined the movement.”
He said the program "will serve as a definitive basis on projects that will be implemented to vulnerable communities and prevent them to be dragged to violent extremism."
“We will use the data as a definitive reference to give us access to the psychology of local Maute-IS (Islamic State) returnees. So far, we have been adapting foreign literature on how to combat violent extremism, and it may not necessarily apply to our country due to cultural differences,” he added.
Brawner also warned other Maute remnants who remain at-large that "if they choose to resist, then they will be at the lethal end of our focused military operations.”
“We are giving them a chance to live a peaceful and meaningful life. We are calling on the remaining Maute-IS fighters to surrender peacefully to the nearest military installation before the next combat operations fall into your doorsteps. Take this offer now before it’s too late,” the military official said. (PNA)