Children and hostages are being forced to fight alongside pro-Islamic State gunmen waging a seven-week battle for a Philippine city, the country's military said Monday.
Some of the extremists are teenagers who may have been recruited and trained to use guns when they were still children, said Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, a military spokesman.
"We continuously get disturbing narratives from [escaped residents] that children as well as hostages are being employed in the firefight", Brig.
Padilla said attempts are being made to prevent casualties among children and civilians. "But in the event... they bear arms and are involved in the fighting, there is nothing much that we can do".
In fact, he said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is finalizing the preparation for the deployment of "well-experienced" engineers for its Engineering Units to help in the rehabilitation process particularly in the restoration of public infrastructures such as school building, mosques, multi-purpose centers, farm-to-market roads and health centers, among others.
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The military earlier said civilians had been forced to help the gunmen by carrying supplies and ammunition, bearing their wounded, and even helping them to loot the city.
Escaped hostages, the military said, reported that the terrorists executed at least six hostages for refusing to take up arms against the security forces.
However, the soldiers are also doing their best to rescue the minors who are also victims of the terrorist group. "We are not into killing them but disabling them instead", he added.
More than 500 people have died in the fighting, including 89 soldiers and police, 39 civilians and 379 militants, according to figures released by the government on Monday.
Almost 400,000 civilians have fled their homes.
Padilla expressed hope that the fighting would soon be concluded.