Wednesday, February 27, 2008

RP Military Absolves Troops In Sulu Massacre

A boy peeks from behind a placard in Sulu province in southern Philippines where Muslims are angered by the killings of seven civilians and an off-duty infantrymen by government soldiers in Maimbung town on February 4, 2008. The Philippine military has absolved the soldiers and said the raid on the village of Ipil was a legitimate operation against the Abu Sayyaf. Among those killed in the village were two children, two teenagers, a pregnant woman and a village official. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 27, 2008) – The Philippine military has absolved dozens of soldiers accused of murdering eight people in the southern province of Sulu.

The soldiers, members of the Army Light Reaction Company and Navy Special Warfare Group, were accused of killing seven innocent civilians and an off-duty infantryman during a raid February 4 in the village of Ipil in Maimbung town.

The military insisted the raid targeted the Abu Sayyaf group and that there was a firefight between militants and soldiers in the village. Among those killed in the raid were two children, two teenagers and a pregnant woman, including a seaweed farmer and a village councilor.

The Western Mindanao Command's Judge Advocate General's Office absolved all the soldiers involved in the killings and said the attack in the village was a legitimate operation. “It was a legitimate encounter with the Abu Sayyaf and that is according to the report and findings of the JAGO,” Army Major Eugene Batara, a regional military spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner on Wednesday.

He said Colonel Fred Lleosa headed the JAGO team which investigated the killings.

But the Philippine Commission on Human Rights said was no Abu Sayyaf in the village and that seven of those slain in the military attack were innocent civilians.

“None of them was an Abu Sayyaf member. Seven civilians and a government soldiers were killed in that attack,” CHR Regional Director Jose Manuel Mamauag said.

The Western Mindanao Command had previously said, even before the start of investigations, that those killed in the raid were either members of the Abu Sayyaf members or coddlers of the group tied to the Indonesian terrorist Jemaah Islamiya.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, criticized the findings of the military investigation.

“The findings are sanitized aimed at lessening the burden of responsibility to members of the elite troops under the Light Reaction Company and the navy’s Special Warfare Group. Acting as judge for itself will lead to nowhere and no justice is expected forthcoming,” the MILF said.

The MILF also praised Mamauag for his unbiased report of the CHR investigations into the killings. “Conscience-guided men, like Mamauag, deserved to be commended by everyone, despite differences of loyalties and orientations,” Muhammad Ameen, chairman of the MILF Secretariat, said.

The CHR findings detailed how troops attacked the village and plundered houses owned by civilians. Mamauag has recommended the filing of criminal charges against the soldiers involved in the raid.

The military ordered a probe of the killings after Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan vowed to file criminal charges against the soldiers involved in the raid. The killings also sparked massive protests from international and local human rights organizations and civil society groups.

Survivors of the carnage testified in investigations that soldiers opened fired on villagers as they pleaded for their life. Four of those killed were shot at sea as they fled for safety on boat.

One of the survivors Rawina Wahid, wife of the slain soldier, Pfc. Ibnul Wahid, said her husband was hogtied and tortured by soldiers before being shot at the back of his head.

"My husband told the soldiers that he is a member of the Philippine Army, but they never listened and dragged him out of the house, bound his hands behind his back and then shot him. They did not listen to our pleading and they killed my husband," she said.

She said she also saw four US soldiers on a navy boat where the body of her husband was brought. "I saw four American soldiers on the boat before Filipino troops blinded folded me," she told reporters. Wahid said she boarded the boat that took her husband's remains to a military base in Jolo town.

One of the victims had been shot at close range in the forehead, his right eye was gorged out and right ear missing. One had a missing finger while another had burns on his body and legs.

The slain civilians were identified as Marisa Payian, 4; Wedme Lahim, 9; Alnalyn Lahim, 15; Sulayman Hakob, 17; Kirah Lahim, 45; Eldisim Lahim, 43; Narcia Abon, 24. Two of the raiders were also killed and five others wounded when they mistook each others as enemies and traded gun fires, according to the CHR report.

Reps. Yusop Jikiri, of Sulu province and Mujiv Hataman, of Basilan have separately called for a congressional investigation into the killings in Maimbung town.
(Mindanao Examiner)

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