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Philippine Panel Probes Alleged Abuses by Army

April 11, 2002|From Associated Press

ISABELA, Philippines — Three Philippine senators launched an investigation Wednesday into alleged rights abuses during a military offensive against Muslim extremist rebels holding an American couple hostage.

Residents tearfully described alleged illegal arrests and killings during a crackdown last year on Abu Sayyaf rebels and supporters on the island province of Basilan.

Lt. Gen. Roy Cimatu, who heads government forces waging an offensive against the Al Qaeda-linked rebels, responded that troops were under strict orders to uphold human rights and that the military was looking into complaints.

No accusations have been made against U.S. troops who arrived in January for a training exercise aimed at helping local troops wipe out the Abu Sayyaf.

"I saw my son half-buried in the ground; he was deformed, almost unrecognizable," Anissa Angulo told members of the Senate committee on justice and human rights in a public hearing.

A report by the government's Commission on Human Rights cited witnesses as claiming that her son, Elnie, was arrested, tortured and killed in September by Philippine marines who suspected that he was an Abu Sayyaf rebel or supporter. His tongue and genitals were cut off, his ribs fractured and his body hacked, they said.

Dentist Manar Saliddin said army soldiers, accompanied by hooded informants, arrested his brother and father in July. They were charged with involvement in the kidnapping of 52 teachers, schoolchildren and a priest by the Abu Sayyaf two years ago.

"My father asked for warrants. Nobody replied," Saliddin said, wearing a yellow shirt reading "Free Basilan 73," referring to the number of Basilan residents allegedly arrested in the crackdown and now jailed in Manila.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, the committee chairman, said he would recommend prosecution of military officers if the allegations were proved.

The United States is providing training and weapons to Filipino troops who are battling the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas on Basilan and trying to rescue missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham of Kansas and a Filipino nurse.

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