- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 28, 2002

CEBU, Philippines Philippine and U.S. officials yesterday denied charges by a leftist lawmaker here that a U.S. soldier shot and seriously wounded a civilian late last week in an unprovoked attack.
Rep. Satur Ocampo, a former member of the Communist Party of the Philippines, said the attack, which he said occurred at about midnight Thursday, "merits a full-blown investigation."
"There is more than enough evidence that the U.S. troops had broken the clauses in the Terms of Reference," Mr. Ocampo said, referring to the ground rules for the six-month U.S.-Philippine anti-terrorism training exercise that ends this week.
About 1,000 American troops in the exercises in the southern Philippines are allowed to fire back only in self-defense and are barred from direct combat.
"We have a strong case," Mr. Ocampo said. "We know the identity of the American soldier."
U.S. Air Force Maj. Richard Sater, spokesman for the American troops, flatly denied Mr. Ocampo's charges. "It didn't happen," Maj. Sater said. "It's a fabrication."
The local commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Basilan island, Col. Alexander Aleo, also dismissed Mr. Ocampo's claim.
"What happened was a legitimate encounter between our soldiers and an Abu Sayyaf unit," Col. Aleo told reporters. "There was no truth to allegations that U.S. forces were involved in the firefight."
Mr. Ocampo identified the purported victim as Buyong Buyong Isnijal, who he said was asleep when two Philippine soldiers and an American serviceman entered his rural home in Kanas village, near Tuburan town on Basilan.
Philippine military officials said Mr. Isnijal is an Abu Sayyaf commander who currently is being interrogated.
Quoting Mr. Isnijal's wife, the congressman said the American opened fire with an assault rifle for no apparent reason. According to Agence France-Presse, Mr. Ocampo and another lawmaker, Liza Maza, identified the U.S. soldier as Reggie Lane.
Col. Aleo and Col. Fredesvindo Covarrubias, spokesman for Philippine military forces in the south, said Mr. Isnijal was shot in the leg by Philippine soldiers who were trying to arrest him for suspected involvement in the Abu Sayyaf.
Mr. Ocampo, who was active in the effort to force U.S. military bases out of the Philippines a decade ago, led a group of some 40 activists opposed to the new U.S. presence to Basilan after hearing of the incident.
The al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorist group has operated on Basilan island, in the far southwestern reaches of the Philippine archipelago, for nearly 15 years. On that remote island province, the Muslim rebels held a kidnapped American couple, Gracia and Martin Burnham, for more than a year.
Mr. Burnham and a local nurse also being held hostage were killed by the rebels last month during a rescue attempt by Philippine troops. Mrs. Burnham was freed in the encounter.
The Abu Sayyaf's historical links to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network prompted Washington to hold the joint training exercise in January in what is widely considered the second front in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
Earlier this month, five Abu Sayyaf members were indicted in a U.S. federal court on charges relating to the kidnapping of the Burnhams and Guillermo Sobero, a U.S. citizen the terrorists beheaded a month after he was taken hostage in May 2001.
The Abu Sayyaf, founded in the late 1980s by a Basilan student who was educated in Libya and Saudi Arabia and later fought in Afghanistan, has been responsible for a series of kidnappings that have garnered as much as $20 million in ransom. But their numbers have been decimated by the joint military training exercise on Basilan, where perhaps as few as 100 active members remain. Many of their fighters have retreated to Jolo, an even more remote island.

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