Duterte gives AFP free hand to rid Marawi of holdouts

The Philippines defence force has been fighting Islamic State militants in Marawi since May

The Philippines defence force has been fighting Islamic State militants in Marawi since May

Mr Abella said the Philippines may also accept offers of assistance from other countries.

A coalition of extremist Islamist groups, who for years existed as rival religious or criminal gangs, joined forces to occupy Marawi on May 23, riding on trucks and waving the black Islamic State flag.

The move came hours after the troops also retook the Islamic Centre and the Grand Mosque that the Maute group used as a command and control centre.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Ano said the soldiers have encircled the terrorists "in a 500 square pocket" in Marawi City.

In all, 620 militants, 45 civilians and 136 soldiers and policemen have been killed in the fighting that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and raised fears about Islamic State establishing a foothold in Southeast Asia.

During a hearing at the Department of Justice on July 28, some of the arrested men, guarded by heavily armed police commandos, told reporters they were poor and jobless and in search of work and a better life.

The militants are now confined to a cluster of small, mosque-dotted communities which have been heavily damaged by airstrikes and artillery.

The ruling shows that the rule of law continues to work under martial law that was declared in the south by President Rodrigo Duterte to deal with the Marawi crisis, Padilla said, adding that the men were treated well and would be flown back to the south on an air force plane.

The advance of the troops has been slowed by rooftop snipers and booby-trapped buildings. He estimated that 40 ISIS terrorists remain in Marawi.

Some of the city's 300,000 residents have returned to neighbourhoods considered safe by the military and classes at the main Mindanao State University have reopened.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia would be "ready to support the Philippines in the same way we are supporting Iraq in advising, assisting and training". Similar offers have been made by other regional countries.

Government troops head to the frontline as fighting with Muslim militants in Marawi in second week of fighting.

Australia, which has an extensive defence cooperation programme with Manila, has already deployed two high-tech AP-3C Orion aircraft for surveillance, and is keen to provide further help.

Similar assistance will now be given to the Philippines.

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