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US Aims to Aid Philippines, Demands Human Rights Concerns Be Addressed

FILE - Members of the Philippine Marines hold their weapons in southern Philippines, Sept. 15, 2013.

The U.S. is committed to assisting the Philippines with its law enforcement efforts, but also wants to make sure that Manila is committed to its human rights obligations, a State Department spokesman said Tuesday.

"Our assistance programs are designed to address human rights concerns by expanding Philippine capacity to conduct effective, lawful investigations, and professionalizing the criminal justice system so that it's more accountable, transparent, effective and just," said spokesman John Kirby.

Reuters news agency quotes congressional sources who say the State Department paused its planned sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines' national police after Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, expressed opposition because of reported extrajudicial killings and human rights violations in the Philippines.

Kirby neither confirmed nor denied the status of the reported weapons sale.

While the department is "committed to working closely with members of Congress to deliver security assistance to allies," Kirby said, it is "restricted under federal regulations from commenting on the status of commercial export license approvals of proposed commercial defense sales."

Under direct commercial sales, the U.S. company sends a request to the State Department's Bureau of Political and Military Affairs after negotiating a proposed sale with a foreign government. The U.S. government, in consultation with Congress, needs to approve the sale before it can be completed.

The Philippine National Police said Manila has yet to be notified about the rifle sale being stopped. It also expressed readiness to look for another supplier of the same type of assault rifles.

Philippine police and vigilantes have killed at least 3,600 people for drug use and drug sales since President Rodrigo Duterte took office at the end of June.

Duterte's promise to aggressively target drug dealers and criminals has gained large support.

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