Monday, June 23, 2008

Human Rights Probers Attacked In South RP

Lawyer Jose Manuel Mamauag, Commission on Human Rights Director for Western Mindanao, gestures during an interview with the Mindanao Examiner. Mamauag says government militias opened fire on a team of human rights investigators on a remote Zamboanga City village. No one was killed or injured in the attack on Friday, June 20, 2008. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / J. Magtanggol)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 23, 2008) – Government militias attacked a group of human rights investigators on an island off Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said militias attacked three of its investigators on the island of Limaong over the weekend. There were no reports of casualties or injuries, but the attack sent a chilling warning that even human rights investigators are no longer safe in the southern Philippines.

Lawyer Jose Manuel Mamauag, CHR regional chief, said his team, accompanied by a forensic expert from the National Bureau of Investigation were returning to Zamboanga City on board a motorized boat when army-led militias opened fire on them.

“Our team was lucky that no one was killed or wounded in the strafing by government militias, but we will file criminal charges against them,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

Mamauag said the CHR team was on the island to exhume the remains of a possible human rights victim. “We still don’t know if the attack on our team was connected to our investigation on the island,” he said.

Early this month, a navy patrol also attacked a group of Muslim fishermen off Taluksangay in Zamboanga City and killing one person. Security officials denied it was behind the attack, but navy soldiers also arrested more than a dozen fishermen on suspicion they were terrorists, village leaders said.

In February, navy commandos and army soldiers also killed seven Muslim civilians and an off-duty soldier in a raid on an alleged Abu Sayyaf hideout in the town of Maimbung in Sulu province.

The military insisted the raid was an operation to rescue kidnapped businesswoman Rosalie Lao from her Abu Sayyaf abductors. The raid resulted to the deaths of seven civilians, including two children, two teenagers, and a pregnant woman.

Two soldiers were also killed while four others were wounded when armed villagers allegedly retaliated.

Human rights investigators denied that there were Abu Sayyaf militants in the village during the raid and accused the troops involved in the operation of plundering the houses of the villagers. (Mindanao Examiner)

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