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Philippines Probes Alleged Abuses

April 10, 2002

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ISABELA, Philippines (AP) _ 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 related 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 Qaida-linked rebels, responded that troops are under strict orders to uphold human rights and 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 held under heavy guard in a school gymnasium.

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

Dentist Manar Saliddin said army soldiers, accompanied by hooded informants, arrested his brother and father last July. They were charged with involvement in the kidnapping of 52 teachers, school children 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.

Victims of Abu Sayyaf atrocities attended but did not speak at the hearing.

``Why are they blaming the military? If they leave, what will happen to us?″ housewife Erlinda Tarroza asked reporters. Her brother, a coconut farmer, was kidnapped and beheaded by the rebels in 1998.

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

``We have an open mind and we cannot rush to judgment,″ he said.

The United States is providing training and weapons to Filipino troops battling the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas on Basilan. More than 600 American military personnel, including 160 U.S. Special Forces, are here for the counterterrorism exercise due to end in July.

A U.S. Army official said recently that American troops have not seen any evidence of rights abuses by Filipino troops.

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