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Latest update : 2009-11-27

Local mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr (centre) has been charged with mass murder after he was accused of ordering the massacre of 57 people on Monday. Ampatuan is the son of a local governor and a close ally of President Gloria Arroyo.

AFP - A Philippine politician was charged with mass murder on Friday after authorities accused him of ordering soldiers, police and other gunmen to kill at least 57 defenceless people in an organised slaughter.

Andal Ampatuan Jnr, a mayor in the lawless southern Philippines who until this week was an ally of President Gloria Arroyo, was charged with seven counts of multiple murder, the government said.

"He was the one who gave the instructions. He was among those... who killed the victims," Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera told reporters as she outlined the case against Ampatuan Jnr.

Devanadera also announced the suspect's father, the leader of the Ampatuan clan and governor of Maguindanao province, was among eight other members of the powerful family under investigation and not allowed to leave the country.

An emotional Devanadera earlier Friday gave the most detailed official account yet of Monday's election-linked massacre, saying the female victims may have also been raped.

"It was horrible. I cannot begin to describe it," Devanadera told the GMA television network, recounting what she had seen of the bodies as well as the testimony of many of those who had taken part in the killings.

Devanadera said the witnesses told prosecutors that Ampatuan Jnr ordered his private militia of more than 100 gunmen to open fire on the group of people on a remote farming area in Maguindanao province.

The gunmen had a short time earlier abducted a convoy of aides and relatives of a rival Muslim politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, plus a batch of local journalists.

The group had been travelling to an election office so Mangudadatu's wife could nominate him to run against Ampatuan Jnr for the post of provincial governor in next year's elections.

Fifty seven bodies have since been recovered from shallow graves in the killing fields close to a town bearing the Ampatuan name.

At least 22 of the victims were women, police said earlier.

Twenty-seven victims were journalists and 15 were motorists who were driving past the area at the wrong time, all of whom were apparently killed to eliminate witnesses.

Ampatuan Jnr, who surrendered to authorities on Thursday, has denied any involvement and blamed Muslim rebels for the killings. Aged in his 40s, he faces life in jail as the Philippines does not have the death penalty.

Devanadera said many of those who took part in the massacre were clear that Ampatuan Jnr was at the scene of the murders, ordered them to open fire and even shot people himself.

Devanadera said some of those who took part in the killings had come forward because of the guilt they felt.

"They were bothered by their conscience," she said, while emphasising many had given testimony against their former boss and not just one.

She said the group of more than 100 gunmen included soldiers and policemen.

The military announced Friday that two army chiefs with direct responsibilities for the area where the massacre occurred had been removed from their posts and placed under investigation.

Devanadera painted a gruesome picture of the fate of the women at the hands of the marauding militia.

"Even the private parts of the women were shot at. It was horrible. It was not done to just one. It was done practically to all the women," she said.

"All the women had their zippers undone. The pants of some were pulled down... We have yet to determine whether they were raped. But it is certain that something bad was done to them."

Maguindanao is part of Mindanao island, where Muslim clans rule vast areas backed by their own private armies, often out of the national government's control.

Ampatuan Snr had been grooming his son to take over as governor of Maguindanao. The victims' relatives alleged the Ampatuans organised the murders so that Mangudadatu would not run for that post.

Mangudadatu, whose wife and pregnant sister were murdered in the massacre, on Friday lodged his nomination for governor.

Highlighting the volatile situation in Maguindanao, police said a local UN Children's Fund worker was shot dead on Thursday in a town just 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the massacre site, but the motive for the murder was unknown.


Date created : 2009-11-27


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