U.N. official urges Philippine military to address political killings

MANILA, Philippines (AP)

A “significant” number of killings of left-wing activists can be linked to Philippine soldiers, a U.N. human rights official said Wednesday, urging the military to investigate.

Philip Alston, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said he could not determine the exact number of victims because of conflicting figures provided by the government and left-wing groups.

Alston said the 117,000-member military “is in a state of almost total denial of its need to respond effectively and authentically to the significant number of killings, which have been convincingly attributed to them.”

Senior military officials blamed rogue soldiers for some of the killings _ an explanation Alston said did not go far enough. The armed forces “needs to give us precise details and to indicate what investigations and prosecutions have been undertaken in response,” he said.

Local human rights group Karapatan has blamed 832 killings since 2001, including the deaths of 356 left-wing activists, on Philippine security forces.

The government says the numbers are bloated, and many victims were either communist rebels or their allies.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo “needs to persuade the military that its reputation and effectiveness will be considerably enhanced, rather than undermined, by acknowledging the facts and taking genuine steps to investigate,” Alston told reporters at the end of a 10-day visit.

Evidence offered by the military suggesting many victims were gunned down by communist rebels as part of an internal purge was “especially unconvincing,” he said.

But Alston acknowledged the complexity of the issue, saying the increase in extrajudicial executions in recent years was linked to the government’s campaign to wipe out communist rebels, who have been fighting for 38 years.