Philippine police say they have found 'truth' of what happened in botched raid on militants

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippine police say they are confident that they have found "the truth" of what happened during a disastrous operation against one of the world's most wanted Islamic militants that left 44 police commandos dead, officials said on Thursday.

Forty-four police commandos were slaughtered by Muslim rebels in a cornfield in the southern Philippines during a high-risk raid that also reportedly killed alleged Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, who goes by the alias "Marwan".

The botched operation on Jan 25 has shaken the government of President Benigno Aquino, who in a recent speech blamed the head of the police commando unit Getulio Napenas for feeding him wrong information ahead of the campaign, which he also said should have been aborted.

"We are confident that we were able to seek out the truth and we are also confident that we would be able to tell you what really happened," said Mr Benjamin Magalong, head of the national police's investigation group. Mr Megalong said it would be up to the government whether to make the findings public and denied suggestions that Aquino's allegations had influenced the inquiry.

The 120-page report was submitted to the national police chief Deputy Director Leonardo Espina, who is expected to send it to Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas.

Mr Megalong stressed his report did not recommend specific criminal charges against anyone for the bungled raid.

"We only do fact-finding. We are not prosecutorial," he added.

The pre-dawn raid on a secluded farming village controlled by Muslim rebels was meant to be a surprise attack, but hundreds of rebels surrounded and overpowered the commandos in a day-long battle.

The military said the death toll was the biggest single battlefield loss for security forces in their 34-year fight against Muslim rebels, who have waged a separatist insurgency since the 1970s.

A DNA test conducted by the FBI on a severed finger from at the site suggested it belonged to Zulkifli, one of the targets of the operation.

Filipino police said they removed the finger from Zulkifli's corpse after killing him.

The incident has been a huge setback for Mr Aquino, who has been blamed by the public for failing to send in police and military reinforcements in time, which experts say could have saved the lives of most of the men.

Some Catholic bishops and opposition groups have called for Mr Aquino's resignation.

The fiasco has also imperilled Mr Aquino's plans to seal a peace agreement with the country's main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), before his term ends next year.

Members of the MILF took part in the attack on the police commandos despite a ceasefire currently in place with the government.

Parliament has suspended debates on a proposed law to grant self-rule to Muslim regions of the mainly Catholic nation as legislators demanded an explanation for the debacle.

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