Friday, December 04, 2009

Philippine troops seized cache of weapons in "Massacre Land"

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 4, 2009) – Philippine security forces on Friday seized a stockpile of illegal firearms from the mansions of a powerful political clan blamed for last week’s brutal slaying of 57 people, officials said.

The firearms were seized after policemen and soldiers unearthed in a vacant lot on Thursday a huge cache of light artillery and heavy infantry weapons and munitions in the capital town of Shariff Aguak near the mansions of the Ampatuan clan, a key political ally of President Gloria Arroyo.

Officials said civilians were providing the authorities with information about illegal weapons in Maguindanao province where, in November 23, more than 100 gunmen allegedly led by Datu Unsay town mayor Andal Ampatuan Jnr attacked his rival political caravan.

“The search is continuing and we expect to find more weapons and munitions. Civilians and allies of the Ampatuan are themselves providing us with trivial information about these weapons,” said Major Randolph Cabangbang, a regional army spokesman.

He said the security forces, armed with court warrants, searched the mansions of Ampatuan Jnr, and his father’s Andal Ampatuan Snr., the governor of Maguindanao, and the mansion of a brother Zaldy Ampatuan, the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. The mansion of his brother Sajid Ampatuan, the deputy governor of Maguindanao province, was also searched.

The mayor surrendered three days after the massacre and denied all accusations against him. His father and brother also denied involvement in the massacre.

Ampatuan’s father and several more clan members were also implicated in the attack that left at least 30 journalists. Among those slain in the attack were the wife and two sisters of rival Esmael Mangudadatu, the deputy mayor of Buluan town.

The mayor accused in the massacre is being groomed by his father to succeed him as provincial governor, a position also being contested by Mangudadatu. The journalists were only covering the filing of the nomination for governor of Mangudadatu, but they too mercilessly killed.

Ampatuan Jnr, who surrendered to authorities three days after the killings, denied involvement in the attack, and so were his father and brothers and other clan members who were implicated in what is now known as the “Maguindanao massacre.”

Television pictures showed soldiers and policemen tearing down a wall suspected as secret arsenal in one of the mansions. Another video showed soldiers with K9 units and metal detectors searching for weapons and explosives inside the sprawling housing complex.

The military also began an investigation into the weapons after many of them had markings that suggested it came from the Department of National Defense. Among the recovered weapons were 57mm and 90mm anti-tank bazookas, mortar bombs, machine guns, sniper and assault rifles, automatic pistols and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition.

It was unknown whether the weapons seized from the Ampatuans were sold by rogue soldiers or not or if any of the firearms were used in the killings.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group negotiating peace with Manila, previously accused the military commanders of illegally selling automatic weapons to political warlords.

President Arroyo, who visited Thursday the funeral of some journalists killed in the attack, ordered authorities to arrest those involved in the grisly murders.

More than 3,000 policemen and soldiers were deployed since last week in Maguindanao and took over the provincial capitol building and two other town halls controlled by the Ampatuan patriarch. (Mindanao Examiner)

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