Senators launch inquiry into army torture claims

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The Independent Online

Three Philippine senators launched an investigation yesterday into allegations of torture and human rights abuses during a military offensive against Muslim extremists.

Residents described illegal arrests and killings by soldiers during a campaign against Abu Sayyaf rebels and supporters on the island of Basilan last year.

Lieutenant-General Roy Cimatu, leading the offensive, said his troops were under strict orders to uphold human rights and the military was looking into the complaints.

No accusations have been made against US troops who arrived in January for a training exercise aimed at helping local troops wipe out the rebels, who are linked to al-Qa'ida. A public hearing before the Senate committee on justice and human rights was told Philippine marines tortured and killed a suspected rebel supporter, Elnie Angulo. His mother, Anissa, said: "I saw my son half-buried in the ground; he was deformed, almost unrecognisable."

Victims of Abu Sayyaf attended the hearing. Erlinda Tarroza, whose brother was beheaded by rebels in 1998, asked reporters: "Why are they blaming the military? If they leave, what will happen to us?"

Senator Francis Pangilinan, the committee chairman, said he would recommend prosecution of military officers if the allegations were proved. (AP)