On day of Duterte visit, AFP retakes Butig town hall from Maute

TROOP VISIT. President Duterte visits troops running after the Maute group in Lanao del Sur on Wednesday, November 30, 2016. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

TROOP VISIT. President Duterte visits troops running after the Maute group in Lanao del Sur on Wednesday, November 30, 2016.

Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

LANAO DEL SUR, Philippines – The military said on Wednesday, November 30, that it has taken control of the abandoned municipal hall of Butig town in Lanao del Sur, where the Maute terror group raised the black flag of the Islamic State (ISIS) last week.

"Ang munisipyo nakuha na pero may mga bahay pa silang ino-okupa sa gilid-gilid (We have taken the municipal hall but they are still occupying several houses in the area )," Colonel Rosseler Murillo, brigade commander, told reporters here Wednesday afternoon.

President Rodrigo Duterte visited troops involved in the operations against the Maute group on Wednesday, warning the terrorists against forcing him to declare war. (READ: Duterte to Maute group: Don't force my hand into war)

Yet, on the same day, too, Malacañang said the President was "considering" talking peace with them. Duterte earlier said he's convinced that the Maute group is "vitally linked" to ISIS.

The Maute group, behind kidnapping and terrorist acts in Northeastern Mindanao, has been in prolonged battles with the military this year. 

The current clashes, which began last week, have killed 49 Maute members and wounded 21 soldiers, the military said. Close to 2,000 families have been displaced by the fighting.

The cannons stopped firing during Duterte's short visit to the area, but resumed shortly after.

Murillo said the main force of the Maute group has retreated to the mountains, but several members have stayed behind to delay the military.

Clearing operations continue around the municipal hall, which has long been abandoned because of past clashes in the area.

The municipal government has been holding office at the building of the National Irrigation Authority locater about half a kilometer away from the town hall. – Rappler.com