11/23/2009, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Mindanao: dozens killed in election-related fighting between rival families

A convoy of cars with relatives and supports of a gubernatorial candidate in Maguindanao are abducted and murdered by an armed commando. So far, 21 bodies have been found, but the death toll could be as high as 43. Politics and a local power struggle are behind the attack. Sources tell AsiaNews that “the situation is bound the get worse.”
Manila (AsiaNews) – Dozens of relatives and supporters of Ishmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, deputy mayor of Buluan and gubernatorial candidate in Maguindanao, a province in the southern Filipino Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), were abducted and murdered by an armed gang. Sources spoke to AsiaNews about rising tensions in the area. “A power struggle is underway and the situation is bound to get worse.”

This morning a convoy with vehicles carrying about 50 people was driving to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections in Shariff Aguak, mostly women and a few journalists. About a hundred armed men stopped the convoy and seized the members of the convoy.

The attack appears to be politically motivated. Those who carried it out are thought to have acted on orders of Andal Ampatuan, current governor of the province of Maguindanao, and head of rival family.

Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner Jr, spokesman for the armed forces of the Philippines, confirmed that 21 bodies, 13 women and 8 men, had been found. They include Genalyn Mangudadatu, wife of the gubernatorial candidate. During the abduction, she was able to send a text message to her husband to raise the alarm.

Unconfirmed reports say that she was also raped and then killed. Other victims are believed to have been decapitated. The total number of victims could be as a high as 43.

Fr Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME missionary who knows the area well, said that “the two Muslim families are involved in a feud for control over the area.” He is especially concerned that “violence might escalate” with “more deaths” because the rival families have “private armies at their disposal” willing to execute the orders of clan leaders.

For Father D’Ambra, “a campaign of violence is being orchestrated in different areas of southern Philippines. [. . .] In the last few days, three abductions occurred in Basilan. In Jolo, acts of violence and murders are a daily occurrence. “

The Catholic clergyman does not exclude “the possibility that Christians might get involved.” They are “a small minority” in the area and “could be hired by the rival clans involved in the power struggle.”

In May 2010, presidential, congressional and local elections are scheduled to take place in the Philippines.

Sources told AsiaNews that “if the situation gets worse elections might be postponed in the areas affected by conflict.”

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