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Arroyo Orders Probe into Alleged Military-Rebel Collaboration

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has ordered an investigation into whether military officers have collaborated with a Muslim rebel kidnap group. Philippine presidential spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, tells VOA the investigation was prompted by a book by U.S. missionary Gracia Burnham, who was kidnapped in the southern Philippines.

"The president ordered the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs to arrange with the U.S. authorities a formal and thorough investigation of Mrs. Burnham's allegations," he said. "These are very serious allegations and the president would want to get to the bottom of this."

Mr. Bunye says Philippine investigators would like to interview Mrs. Burnham, who is currently living in the United States.

In her book, Mrs. Burnham says a Philippine general sold guns and food to Abu Sayyaf guerrillas during her year-long captivity with the group.

A long time missionary in the Philippines, she was one of dozens of people taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf during a spree of attacks in southern Philippines two years ago. She was rescued a year ago in a gun battle in which she was wounded and her husband, John Burnham, and Philippine nurse Ediborah Yap were killed.

Mrs. Burnham details conversations in which military officers reportedly asked for part of the ransom demanded by the guerrillas for the hostages' release.

She also reports Abu Sayyaf rebels claimed to be part of the al-Qaida terrorist network of Osama bin-Laden.

Senior Philippine military officials deny the allegations of collusion but say they support an investigation.

There have been previous charges that military officials colluded with the Abu Sayyaf, leading to several investigations. An inquiry by a congressional committee last year concluded there was basis for suspicion while the other investigations have cleared the military.

Spokesman Bunye says President Arroyo is taking the latest charges especially seriously.

"In the case of Mrs. Burnham, she is supposed to be an eyewitness," he said. "This is a direct account of what allegedly took place. So the president is looking at this with a little more concern."

Mr. Bunye says the president has also issued a directive to the Philippine military and police that prohibits and orders punishment for any kind of friendly contact between security forces and terrorists.