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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-11-26

Philippine soldiers arrested 20 men in connection with the massacre of 57 people Monday. Troops have also begun disarming the powerful Ampatuan family's 200-strong militia.

REUTERS - Philippine security forces took control of two southern towns on Thursday and arrested 20 men linked to the murder of 57 people in a brutal election-related massacre this week, authorities said.

Soldiers had also disarmed a 200-member para-military force under the control of a powerful political family as authorities prepared to take the principal suspect, who is one of the clan, into custody, said military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Romeo Brawner.

"We are expecting Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr to be turned over peacefully to the

authorities anytime today," Brawner said. There are no charges yet against Ampatuan, but newspapers have quoted witnesses as saying he was at the scene at the time of the killings.

Not all the victims have been identified but 22 of them were believed to be journalists, making Monday's attack on their convoy in the troubled south the deadliest ever on the media anywhere in the world.

The dead included several women of the Mangudadatu clan who were on their way to file the candidacy of one of the family for the provincial governor's post in elections next year.

Clan feuds are common in the southern Philippines and the Mangudadatus have been at loggerheads with the Ampatuans for months.

Brawner said that 20 members of a civilian militia under the control of provincial officials have been arrested, but gave no details.

"At this point, Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. is a suspect," Jesus Verzosa, national police chief, told reporters.

Soldiers and combat-trained police units took control of the provincial capitol building and two town halls after witnesses said armed men who were involved in the killings sought refuge in these areas, he added.

Monday's attack was carried out by about 100 armed men, who herded the victims to a remote hillside and attacked them with M-16 rifles and machetes. At least 10 of those killed where motorists who were passing by on the highway and had apparently witnessed the abduction.

On Wednesday, the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD party expelled Andal Ampatuan, his father and brother from the alliance.

Andal Ampatuan Sr. has been elected governor of Maguindanao three times while the other son Zaldy is governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which covers six southern provinces.

Date created : 2009-11-26


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