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Philippines massacre suspect surrenders

Andal Ampatuan Jr, who is suspected in the massacre of 57 people in the Philippines, turns himself in.

Andal Ampatuan, centre, is escorted by military personnel to a helicopter after he surrendered to authorities in Sharif Aguak, province of Maguindanao on November 26, 2009.
Andal Ampatuan, centre, is escorted by military personnel to a helicopter after he surrendered to authorities in Sharif Aguak, province of Maguindanao on November 26, 2009.

AMPATUAN, PHILIPPINES // A member of a powerful pro-government clan suspected in the massacre of 57 people in the Philippines turned himself in this morning amid mounting pressure on the president to crack down on lawlessness and warlords. The dead from Monday's massacre included at least 18 journalists and the wife, family and dozens of supporters of a gubernatorial candidate who wanted to challenge the rival Ampatuan clan, which has ruled Maguindanao province unopposed for years.

Andal Ampatuan Jr, a town mayor who allegedly stopped the convoy with dozens of police and pro-government militiamen, surrendered to presidential advisor Jesus Dureza in the provincial capital, military commander Lt Gen Raymundo Ferrer said. "The family voluntarily surrendered him and they agreed that he will be investigated," Mr Ferrer said. Asked by reporters if he was involved in the killings, Mr Ampatuan, who tried to hide his face with a scarf, said: "There is no truth to that. The reason I came out is to prove that I am not hiding and that I am not guilty."

The interior secretary Ronaldo Puno said he had warned the family they risked a military attack unless they turned over Mr Ampatuan by midday today. As a helicopter carrying him took off, shots rang out but the aircraft was not hit, Mr Ferrer said. It wasn't clear who fired the shots. The clan helped President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her allies win the 2004 presidential and 2007 senatorial elections by delivering crucial votes. Mrs Arroyo's ruling party, in an emergency meeting late yesterday, expelled Mr Ampatuan, his father and a brother.

Mr Ampatuan's surrender followed days of discussions between his family and Mr Dureza, apparently in a bid to prevent hostilities between the clan's followers and government forces. Mr Ferrer said the area around the provincial capital was tense after troops disarmed about 350 pro-government militiamen loyal to the Ampatuans. Such militias are meant to act as an auxiliary force to the military and police in fighting rebels and criminals but often serve as politicians' private armies.

The military deployed tanks and truckloads of troops throughout the province under a state of emergency to hunt down the attackers and prevent retaliatory violence from the victims' clan.

The gubernatorial candidate, Ismael Mangudadatu, had received death threats and sent his wife and relatives to submit his candidacy on Monday in the convoy that was ambushed. Mr Mangudadatu said four people whom he refused to identify told him Ampatuan was seen with the gunmen. National police director Jesus Verzosa said six senior officers, including the provincial police chief and his deputy, 20 members of Ampatuan Township's police station and 347 militiamen were in custody for the investigation, but that not all were considered suspects.

President Arroyo vowed justice for the victims. Few, however, think she will be able to restore the rule of law in the impoverished region that has been outside the central government's reach for generations, and where warlords backed by private armies go by their own rules. Mr Maguindanao's acting governor is Sajid Ampatuan, another son of former Gov Andal Ampatuan Sr, the clan's patriarch. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the administration's relationship with the family would hinder an impartial investigation.

*AP