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Police in Philippines re-launch crackdown on illegal drugs

Police have re-launched nationwide operations against illegal drugs after a month-long suspension in the Philippines. The operation was put on hold after the murder of a South Korean businessman.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald dela Rosa (photo) told reporters on Monday that the PNP was being reformed, calling on "men of burning desire" to join a new task force, named the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Group.

Dela Rosa said the re-launch of police anti-narcotics operations would be less bloody, "or even bloodless," but gave no details about the new task force.

President Rodrigo Duterte suspended the PNP from the drug crackdown on January 30 after it was found that rogue drugs squad police had kidnapped and murdered a South Korean businessman.

"We are here to save lives. We are not here to claim lives," dela Rosa said. "Do not be afraid, you drug addicts and pushers. This is your chance to have a new life," he said. "Our aim is for this campaign to be bloodless, if possible," he added.

Some 2,551 suspects died in police operations against drug users and pushers in the seven-month operation up to January 30, according to police statistics.

Human rights concerns

The PNP has been criticized by human rights groups which allege extrajudicial killings were systematic in Duterte's anti-drugs campaign, in which more than 8,000 people have been killed since he took office last June.

President Rodrigo Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte

The US State Department said in its annual human rights report last week that there were serious concerns about police impunity and a growing number of vigilante and extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

It noted Duterte had repeatedly said he would protect police from legal action.

Duterte's spokesman said in response the Philippines was committed to human rights but also said it was important not to link reports of abuses to the anti-drugs campaign, which was a "noble crusade."

When asked to comment on that, Duterte said criminals had no humanity.

Watch video 05:41

Duterte's 'war on drugs' in the Philippines

jbh/jm (dpa, Reuters)

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