Sunday, December 06, 2009

More illegal weapons unearthed in Maguindanao; troops continue searching for firearms used in massacre of 57 people

Security forces unearthed Sunday, December 6, 2009 more than three dozen high powered weapons and munitions in Maguindanao province in southern Philippines as troops continued searching for illegal arms used in the brutal slaying of 57 people last month. A tip from concerned citizens led government troops to the cache of firearms and ammunition buried at an area in a ranch believed owned by the patriarch of the Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao. The latest find included machine guns that military officials say were hastily buried . (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales).

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 6, 2009) – Security forces unearthed a cache of weapons and munitions as troops continued searching for illegal arms used in the brutal slaying of 57 people last month in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said soldiers and policemen recovered machine guns and automatic rifles from a vacant lot near the provincial capitol of Maguindanao in Shariff Aguak town.

“We have unearthed and recovered a cache of weapons and bullets near the provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak. These include .50 and 30-caliber machine guns, M14 and M16 rifles and many bullets,” said Colonel Leo Ferrer, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade.

Ferrer said the police are investigating whether the weapons belonged to the Ampatuans or used in the carnage. “It is possible these weapons belong to the Ampatuan,” he said.

Authorities were investigating whether the weapons belonged to the powerful and feared Ampatuan clan which was linked to the November 23 massacre of supporters of a rival politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, the deputy mayor of Buluan town, and at least 30 journalists, covering the politician’s nomination for governor in Maguindanao in next year’s polls.

Maguindanao is one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.

Boxes and boxes of the ammunition recovered in the area bore markings which suggested it all came from the government arsenal. Last week, soldiers also unearthed huge cache of light artillery and heavy infantry weapons and tens of thousands of bullets with the markings – DND, Govt Arsenal and PNP – and their inventory tags.

DND refers to the Department of National Defense, while PNP is the acronym of the Philippine National Police. The recovery of the weapons, which included bazookas and mortars, shocked military and police authorities and bolstered suspicions that rogue commanders could be illegally selling arms to political warlords and probably rebel groups and crime syndicates.

The recovery of so much high-powered weapons sparked separate military and police investigations that will look into all these allegations. Ferrer said they have recovered about 200 pieces of assorted weapons in Maguindanao’s Shariff Aguak town, a stronghold of the Ampatuan clan, since last week.

The chief suspect in the massacre, Andal Ampatuan Jnr, the mayor of Datu unsay town, surrendered three days after the brutal murders and denied involvement in the attack and pointed to the MILF instead. Authorities rejected the allegations, saying, witnesses tagged him as the leader of the group that abducted and massacred the 57 people, who were on their way to file Mangudadatu’s nomination papers with the local poll office.

Police and military also arrested the politician’s father and patriarch of the clan, Andal Ampatuan Snr, the governor of Maguindanao; his sons Zaldy Ampatuan, the regional governor; Akmad Ampatuan, the deputy provincial governor; and the mayor of Shariff Aguak town, Anwar Ampatuan.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said some members of the clan are considered suspects in the murders of 57 people. She said the suspects have varying degrees of participation either before and during or after the mass murders, based on the statements of witnesses.

Judges handling the cases in Mindanao were being threatened by unidentified groups that forced them to go into hiding. And even journalists covering the situation in Maguindanao were also being threatened for news stories linking the Ampatuan clan to the killings. (Mindanao Examiner)

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