Thursday, November 26, 2009

Arroyo ally linked to Maguindanao massacre surrenders; more troops deployed to hunt down killers

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / November 26, 2009) – Police on Thursday took a scion of one of the Philippines’ most powerful clan who was accused of masterminding the massacre of 57 people, mostly journalists and supporters of a rival clan in restive region of Mindanao.

Philippine police chief Jesus Verzosa said Datu Unsay town mayor Andal Ampatuan Jnr. was brought to General Santos City by helicopter and would be flown to Manila where he will be investigated for his role in Monday’s brutal killings.

“Mayor Ampatuan is considered a suspect and will be flown to Manila for investigation,” he said.

President Gloria Arroyo’s assistant, Jesus Dureza, accompanied Ampatuan after convincing his family to peacefully surrender the politician, blamed for the killing of the wife and relatives, and supporters of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, and at least 34 journalists who were to cover the filing of his nomination for the gubernatorial elections next year.

Ampatuan is also running as governor of Maguindanao, a position currently being held by his father Andal Ampatuan Snr., a key political ally of President Gloria Arroyo. His elder brother Zaldy Ampatuan is the governor of the Muslim autonomous region to which Maguindanao and four other provinces belong.

Interior Secy. Ronaldo Puno said security forces have taken over the provincial capitol building of Maguindanao and the municipal halls of Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan.

“The joint groups of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces took critical control of the capitol building of the province of Maguindanao and the municipal halls of Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan,” he said.

He said 347 government militias under the control of the Ampatuan clan were also disarmed and being investigated for their possible links to the brutal murders. Police also arrested at least 20 suspects and are also under interrogation.

“The investigation of the incident is being conducted in earnest and that those responsible will be held to account regardless of who they are,” Puno said.

Puno said the hunt for the other suspects still continues. He said had Ampatuan declined to surrender, security forces would take all actions and exert physical force to take the politician and bring him to Manila to face investigation.

Army Lieutenant General Rodrigo Maclang, the Armed Forces’ deputy chief, said hundreds of troops, including members of the Special Forces, the Scout Ranger, and two mechanized battalions, were deployed Thursday in Maguindanao to help hunt down those who participated in the killings.

The military earlier this week deployed about a thousand foot soldiers to track down the suspects in the massacre. Of the 57 killed, at least 22 are believed to be journalists. They were part of more than 60 people in an election convoy held and later killed by gunmen said to be armed followers of Ampatuan clan.

A passing civilian car and a government vehicle were also stopped by the gunmen in Shariff Aguak and also killed four passengers they thought were also supporters of Mangudadatu, whose wife and relatives were believed raped and executed.

Mangudadatu said his sister and an aunt had both been pregnant and not spared by the killers, whom he called “monsters.”

“My wife’s private parts were slashed four times, after which they fired a bullet into it,” a news report quoted the vice mayor as saying. “They speared both of her eyes, shot both her breasts, cut off her feet, fired into her mouth. I could not begin to describe the manner by which they treated her.” (Mindanao Examiner)

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