12/07/2009, 00.00
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Maguindanao, manhunt to disarm 3000 affiliates of the Ampatuan clan

by Santosh Digal
Charges of "armed insurrection" against the perpetrators of the massacres. A choice criticized by human rights activists because it opens the door to a possible pardon by the Head of State. The appeal of the Catholic Church for the disarmament of all militias, for peace and security.

Manila (AsiaNews) - The Philippine military has launched a manhunt to capture about 3 thousand fighters loyal to the Ampatuan clan, responsible for the massacre of 23 November in the southern province of Maguindanao. The leadership of the Catholic Church supports the "campaign of disarmament" of all armed groups in the area, structural and economic reforms, the work of organizations that promote "peace and security” in the area.

From December 5, Maguindanao is under the martial law imposed by Manila after the murder of 57 people, including journalists, relatives and supporters of Ishmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, vice-mayor of Buluan and candidate for governor. The origins of the massacre is a power struggle between rival clans - the Ampatuan and Mangudadatu - ahead of provincial elections of 2010.  

The army has formed a security cordon around the province, seizing illegal weapons (over 800 thousand and 430 thousand bullets) and arresting dozens of suspects. Unconfirmed local sources report that yesterday there were "armed clashes between the military and rebel militias," but so far there is no news of casualties.

Senior military officers report the local population "is still in fear of possible attacks by members of the Ampatuan clan. Against alleged perpetrators of the massacre of 23 November, political supporters of Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, prosecutors have opened an investigation for "armed insurrection" and murder. A choice criticized by human rights activists, because they hold the massacre to be of a "political nature" and say it opens the door to the possibility - in the future – of release on bail or a pardon by the Head of State.  

The Philippine Church, meanwhile, supports the "disarmament of all bands in the province of Maguindanao, the confiscation of weapons and efforts to bring" peace and security to the province. Msgr. Orlando B. Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato, confirms the importance of the arrests and the work of the investigators to target those responsible for massacres.

The prelate calls for "fast and fair" trials for those involved in the violence. “Let us pray – he adds - for the return of the rule of law in the area. We also pray for all people of Maguindanao, whether Christian, Muslim, lumads (indigenous groups, ed), Buddhists or followers of Confucius, that they may live in peace as brothers and sisters. "  

Sonny Fernandez, a member of the Syndicate of Journalists in the Philippines, announced its support of the International Day against Impunity, on 9th December. The event will bring representatives from the world of communications , students, writers, trade unionists and human rights activists.


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