Philippine troops arrested 62 people and discovered another major weapons cache Sunday after martial law was imposed in a southern province following the country's worst political massacre. Thousands of troops, backed by tanks and planes, have taken control of Maguindanao province in a government crackdown on the powerful Ampatuan clan, accused of killing 57 people travelling in a convoy of a political rival. The clan has denied involvement. Late Friday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo imposed martial law in Maguindanao - the first use of martial law in the Philippines since late dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed it nationwide more than 30 years ago.
The move was announced on national television Saturday morning. The government says it feared the Ampatuans, who have ruled unopposed with an iron fist over predominantly Muslim Maguindanao for years, were fomenting rebellion in response to the pressure on them since the massacre. Those arrested so far include the clan's patriarch, at least six other family members, and clan followers, national police Chief Jesus Verzosa said.
Thirty-nine high-powered firearms and crates of ammunition were dug up Sunday at a farm believed owned by the Ampatuans near the provincial capital of Sheriff Aguak, army Brig Gen Gaudencio Pangilinan said. Army troops and police were pursuing about 4,000 armed followers of the Ampatuans, some reportedly massing in eight Maguindanao towns. Security forces have sealed off Maguindanao's exit points and mounted checkpoints, said police.
Fearing violence, some residents have fled towns in Maguindanao, about 880km south of Manila. Heavily armed troops manned checkpoints and frisked motorists along the main motorway that cuts through farmland, hills and marshland in the province. The martial law proclamation allows troops to make arrests without court warrants. "I advise you to stay put and be calm or go about your daily chores," regional military commander Lt Gen Raymundo Ferrer said. "Only those having to do with the massacre will be arrested and their houses searched."
Pro-democracy advocates have accused Mrs Arroyo of overreacting. A group of human rights lawyers has argued there are insufficient grounds for martial law and plan to challenge it in the Supreme Court on Monday. * AP