Philippines vows to act faster on political killings

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MANILA, Oct 10 (Reuters) The Philippines ordered government prosecutors to resolve rights abuse compliants against soldiers and police officers within a 60-day period, the justice secretary said today.

Agnes Devanadera said she imposed the deadline to speed up the resolution of hundreds of rights abuse cases that had been referred to the justice department by law enforcement agencies as well as the government's human rights commission.

''We decided to initially start with cases whose victims were activists and the suspects were agents of the state,'' Devanadera told a press briefing, adding the justice department has 23 cases from the Presidential Committee on Human Rights.

But, human rights advocates remained wary whether the justice government was really sincere in resolving political killings or was only trying to improve the government's image abroad.

''It will not stop the murders and disappearances,'' said Ruth Cervantes, spokeswoman of the left-wing rights group Karapatan, adding the justice department's actions were not exactly new.

''We've heard these orders in the past. It's actually part of their work. So, we're challenging the justice department to prosecute and convict even one human rights violator.'' Karapatan, a Tagalog language word for rights, has said more than 800 people have been killed since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power in 2001. About 200 have also disappeared, believed executed.

A UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings said in February the military was responsible for many of the deaths.

But the army denied the allegations, blaming many of the murders and abductions on internal purges within the communist New People's Army (NPA) rebels, while international groups have said there's evidence of a ''dirty war'' by the military.

Cervantes said the justice department was not only slow in acting on rights abuse cases, but it had covered up in the past, throwing out cases despite overwhelming evidence and witnesses' testimonies against soldiers and police officers.

REUTERS SZ RK1412

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