Philippine police to ask rebels to catch massacre group

November 20, 2012 - 4:49:45 am

MANILA: Philippine police said yesterday they would ask Muslim separatist rebels currently holding peace talks with the government to help catch 92 suspects in the country’s worst political massacre.

They said they would request that government peace negotiators ask the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim armed group, for help in tracking down the remaining suspects in the 2009 massacre of 58 people.

However Milf vice-chairman Ghadzali Jaafar said his group would have to take up the request with its top leadership before deciding. 

“We will have to meet in the central committee. We are an organisation, we decide collectively,” he said.

Members of the Ampatuans, a powerful Muslim clan, allegedly carried out the massacre in the southern Philippines to prevent a rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, from running against one of their members in upcoming elections.

The Ampatuans and their armed followers gunned down 58 people including Mangudadatu’s wife and sisters, their lawyers and accompanying journalists in the strife-torn southern province of Maguindanao.

Many key Ampatuan members are now being tried over the murders but other suspects remain at large.

The Ampatuans were allowed by the government to amass a private army to act as a bulwark against anti-government forces like the Milf.

Maguindanao police chief Senior Superintendent Keith Singian said suspects are believed to have fled to Milf-controlled areas in the south.

“We have confirmed that some of these at-large suspects sought refuge in the areas of the Milf, so we will try to coordinate with the peace process panel if they can help us track these suspects,” he told reporters.

Mangudadatu, who was elected governor of Maguindanao after the massacre, said sources told him some suspects were being protected by relatives in the Milf.

Last month, the government and the 12,000-strong Milf signed a “framework agreement” to pave a way for a final peace accord, ending decades of fighting for an Islamic state in the southern Philippines.