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Rights group urges probe into arrest and torture of children

Call follows case of two teenagers tagged as rebels reporter, Davao City

August 2, 2013

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A child rights group today called for an investigation into the reported illegal arrest and torture of minors labeled by the military as communist New People's Army rebels in the southern Philippines.

The Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Manila raised alarm over cases of children who were arrested by the military in the southern province of Agusan del Sur. Executive Director Jacquiline Ruiz said the children "were civilians and in fact victims of rights violations.

"The government must end its long practice of baseless tagging of children as child soldiers and reprimand the perpetrators," she said.

Last week, army soldiers and members of a paramilitary group together arrested two tribal children in the hinterlands of Loreto town, Agusan del Sur province.

Upon verification, it was proved that the children were civilians on their way to register for the upcoming village elections, and not rebels.

Congresswoman Luzviminda Ilagan of the women's party Gabriela also called for a congressional inquiry into the incident.

The alleged torture of 17-year-old John and 16-year-old Allan was followed by the evacuation of more than 500 Agusanon tribal families, including 200 children, this week.

The military denied soldiers tortured John and Allan. Col Leo Bongosia, spokesperson of the Army's 4th Infantry Division, said John and Allan were positively identified by villagers as members of the New People's Army.

He said the two minors were arrested following an ambush allegedly staged by the rebels in the village of Balete. A witness, however, contradicted the military's story.

Residents in the affected villages said the soldiers have been forcing them to sign an agreement with a company planning to put up a biogas plantation there. Despite threats, the residents says that they have refused.

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