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Philippine Senate Probes Military, Rebel Collusion - 2001-09-07

The Philippine Senate says it has obtained proof of collusion between military officers and Abu Sayyaf rebels involved in the kidnapping of several western tourists. The Senate has been investigating reports that senior military officers pursuing the Abu Sayyaf in their holdout in the southern Philippines are working with the rebel group.

The head of the Philippine Senate committee investigating alleged collusion between military officers and the Abu Sayyaf rebel group says the Senate possesses "strong evidence" to support the allegations. In a television interview, Senator Ramon Magsaysay says the Senate may recommend court martial for those officers involved.

Thursday, residents of Basilan island, where Abu Sayyaf rebels are holding Filipino and American hostages, told the Senate how Abu Sayyaf rebels managed to escape from a military cordon around a hospital in June. They alleged military officers aided the rebels.

The rebels raided the hospital in the town of Lamitan after taking hostages from a resort in May. Three of the hostages, including a businessman, claimed they escaped from the hospital amid fighting between pursuing government troops and the Abu Sayyaf. But reports have surfaced that their families paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom.

One woman who was in the hospital during the raid testified that she overheard one of the hostages complain about why they were not released yet, when their families had already paid ransom. She added that an Abu Sayyaf leader later told the businessman to go out but to say that he escaped.

Another witness said she saw a military officer's aide carrying a briefcase filled with cash shortly before the hostages escaped.

The Senate investigation has been prompted by accusations from a Lamitan Catholic priest, Cirilo Nacorda. He says there has been of a pattern of cooperation between the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers and military officers. Father Nacorda himself was abducted by the group in 1994.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel promises that military officers found guilty will be punished. "Father Nacorda's revelations will pinpoint some officials or officers of the armed forces as having illicit connections with the Abu Sayyaf," he said, "then those officials or officers should be made to account for what they have done."

The military has been pursuing the Abu Sayyaf rebels in the southern Philippines since their raid on a central Philippine resort in May. However, there has been little success in eliminating the group, which claims to be fighting for an independent Muslim state in the mostly Catholic country. Senior military officers stationed in Basilan have denied helping the Abu Sayyaf.