World

US says rise of extra-judicial killings in Philippines drug war 'troubling'

WASHINGTON: The United States said it was troubled by the growing number of extra-judicial killings in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs and called on Manila to stick to its commitment to investigate them.

Close to 9,000 people, mostly drug users and small-time dealers, have been killed since Mr Duterte took office 10 months ago and promised an unrelenting campaign to rid the country of illicit narcotics.

Police said about a third of the victims were shot by officers in self-defence. Human rights groups believe many of the remaining two-thirds were killed by paid assassins cooperating with the police or by police themselves, disguised as vigilantes. The government and police reject that.

Mr Patrick Murphy, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for South-east Asia, said the US shared Manila's objective of eliminating the scourge of illicit drugs and wanted to help. "We, however, do have a very sustained and deep concern when elements of the drug war are operating outside the rule of law," Mr Murphy told reporters. "The growing number of extrajudicial killings is troubling."

Rights advocates were concerned when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sidestepped questions about extra-judicial killings in the Philippines during his January confirmation hearing.

Mr Murphy said there was a distinction between being a nominee and the secretary of state and Mr Tillerson was now the leader of the policy of expressing concern about the way the drug war was being waged. "We are urging the Philippines to follow up on its commitment to investigate extra-judicial killings whether they are committed by law enforcement, or of a vigilante nature," he said.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Duterte's office rejected allegations in a Reuters report that police received cash rewards for executing drug suspects.

Mr Duterte was infuriated by US expressions of concern about extra-judicial killings after he took office last year and threatened to sever the long-standing US defence alliance. - REUTERS

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