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ICC Note: One year after the Marawi siege, which began with a homegrown ISIS Maute group striking at the Philippines military to create a caliphate, more than 230,000 residents of the southern city are still displced. Many of them still mourn the loss of their loved ones, and close to 100 people are still missing.

05/23/2018 Philippines (Channel News Asia) – Mahid Radia’s last glimpse of his parents was when he and his children were fleeing their home amid gunfire, explosions and the howl of airplanes bombing the dens of extremists who had taken over Marawi, the Philippines’ only Islamic city.

The military prevailed over Islamic State-inspired rebels in the country’s biggest and longest battle since World War Two. One year since the fighting began, there is peace in Marawi, but little else.

Radia’s lakeside home is a pile of rubble, like scores of others in the former war zone. His mother and father are still missing, and he yearns for closure.

“Our parents decided to stay home in the belief the fighting would end in days,” said Radia, 31, the eldest of 11 siblings.

“We pray that if they died, their remains were retrieved.”

Hundreds of families are missing relatives since the start of a war that few saw coming, and which could happen again, the government has warned, if Islamic State’s radical ideology spreads among the Muslim minority in the mainly Catholic nation.

About 165 security forces and 47 residents were confirmed killed in the battle for Marawi. But people from Marawi believe the number of civilians killed was far higher.

The official death toll in the five-month war is 1,109, mostly members of a shadowy militant alliance that drew fighters from radical factions of domestic Islamist groups.

It has taken six months to clear hundreds of unexploded bombs and booby traps and for volunteers to sift the debris.

Samples of DNA have been taken from 244 retrieved bodies, prior to their burial in numbered graves. Radia hopes to find his mother and father, but tracing matches is difficult. Relatives have claimed just 11 bodies so far.

The task becomes tougher because the bodies of residents trapped or held captive in the war zone cannot be distinguished from those of slain militants.

“We had instances when we identified the deceased and we coordinated with the relatives, but they did not claim the cadaver,” said Norhanie Marohombsar, the head of the interior ministry in Marawi.

“The relatives fear being tagged as part of the insurgency.”

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For interviews with Gina Goh, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org