Philippines pulls out 1,000 police in massacre area

Wed Dec 2, 2009 5:30am EST


MANILA, Dec 2 (Reuters) - The Philippines has ordered the pullout of 1,000 police officers in a southern province where 57 people were murdered last month in the country's most brutal election-related crime, a police spokesman said on Wednesday.

The pullout was meant to pave the way for an impartial investigation into the massacre after a handful of police officers were linked to the killings that included 30 local journalists, said Leonardo Espina, spokesman of the Philippine National Police.

He said combat-trained police units from other parts of the country would be sent to replace the security force in several towns under the control of the powerful Ampatuan clan in the southern province of Maguindanao.

Hundreds of soldiers took control of two mansions of the Ampatuan family on Wednesday, restricting their movements as state prosecutors rushed to file murder charges against five more members of the family, including the patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr, suspected to have taken part in the killings.

On Tuesday, state prosecutors filed formal murder charges against a member of the Ampatuan family for the massacre in a suspected clan-feud that has stoked tensions ahead of next May's elections.

"They are not allowed to leave their mansions unless really necessary, that's the order," Colonel Leo Ferrer, an army brigade commander, told reporters, saying hundreds of troops with armoured vehicles were posted outside the Ampatuans' property.

But a military spokesman said the presence of soldiers was part of security measures because the Ampatuans, who have many political enemies including Muslim guerrillas, have lost their bodyguards.

Two members of a civilian militia force were also arrested on Wednesday, with one suspected to be among the gunmen because the rifle seized from him matched some of the bullet casings recovered at the massacre scene, Espina said. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Jeremy Laurence) ((manuel.mogato@thomsonreuters.com; +63 2 841 8913; Reuters Messaging: manuel.mogato.reuters.com@reuters.net)) ((If you have a comment or query on this story, send an email to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com))

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