Twenty-one found dead in hostage crisis, says military
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Twenty-one local politicians and journalists abducted by gunmen linked to a powerful politician in southern Philippines have been found dead, according to the region's military chief Major General Alfredo Cayton.
AFP - At least 21 people among a group of local politicians and journalists were killed in the southern Philippines on Monday shortly after being abducted, the military said.
The killings appeared to be linked to a political rivalry that flared ahead of next year's national elections, according to the military and relatives of some of those believed killed.
"Our army troopers have reached the area where the vehicles and those held were taken... they were shot by the armed men," regional military chief Major General Alfredo Cayton said in a radio interview.
"We have recovered 21 bodies. Our men are continuing to scour the area to find the others."
Cayton said he could not yet confirm who carried out the killings.
But armed forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner said earlier that gunmen linked to a powerful politician had seized 40 people, including his political rivals and 20 local journalists.
He confirmed afterwards that 21 people had been killed -- 13 of them women -- and that the death toll was likely to rise.
"We believe more bodies are buried in the ground and we are trying to recover them," he said in an interview with the ABS-CBN television network.
Among those taken were the wife of a mayor in Maguindanao province, Esmael Mangudadatu, his aides and supporters, according to Brawner.
The journalists were accompanying Mangudadatu's group to a local elections office to file his candidacy for governorship of the predominantly Muslim Maguindanao province in the May 2010 vote when they were seized by the gunmen.
The Mangudadatu clan is known to have a long-running feud with the family of Maguindanao's incumbent governor Andal Ampatuan, who police say is known to control his own private army.
Before the reports of the death, Brawner said there were about 100 gunmen, most of whom were militiamen deputised as government guards by Ampatuan's family.
Brawner said earlier the leader of the militiamen who staged the kidnapping was one of Ampatuan's sons. Ampatuan was not immediately reachable for comment.
Esmael Mangudadatu's brother, Khdadafeh, also blamed Ampatuan.
"We suspect Ampatuan as being behind this," he told AFP.
"His son, Andal Ampatuan Jnr, is supposed to run for governor and he had already made an earlier announcement that we would be killed if (Esmael) filed the candidacy for governor."
Revenge killings and clashes among rival political families are common in Maguindanao and other parts of Mindanao island, where unlicensed firearms proliferate and parts of which are lawless.
The Philippines is also regarded as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.
However the scale of such a slaughter sent immediate shock waves through the country.
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