ASIA >Potential witness in Philippine massacre killed

MANILA - Agence France-Presse

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A member of a clan that is accused in the Philippines' worst political massacre was murdered as prosecutors urged him to testify against his relatives, police said Thursday.
Alijol Ampatuan was shot dead in February as state prosecutors tried to put him on the stand, local police chief Marcelo Pintac said, adding that it was the sixth murder of somebody connected to the case.
"He (was) not a witness yet. I was told that they (prosecutors) were speaking to him about turning state witness," Superintendent Pintac told AFP by telephone.
He said the dead man was a distant relative of powerful Muslim political leader Andal Ampatuan Snr, one of 64 people standing trial in Manila over the massacre, and had worked as a security guard for the clan.
The Ampatuans are accused of massacring 57 people in the southern province of Maguindanao in November 2009, allegedly to prevent a political rival from challenging a clan member in 2010 elections for provincial governor.
The family had ruled Maguindanao for a decade, armed by the previous government of then-president Gloria Arroyo, who used the clan's private army as a buffer against Muslim guerrillas.
The massacre victims included the Ampatuan rival's relatives as well as 32 journalists and media workers, whose bodies were all found shot to death and buried in a shallow pit.
Pintac said the true identity of the latest murder victim took months to emerge because local police had initially identified Alijol Ampatuan's corpse as that of another person. Prosecutors this month said the body of another man who has already testified against the Ampatuans, clan driver Esmael Amil Enog, was found "chain-sawed to pieces" and stuffed in a sack.
A third witness, a member of the clan's private army, was killed in 2010, while three relatives of other witnesses have also been murdered in separate incidents.
Carlos Conde, Philippine researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, called on the government to boost its witness protection programme to enable the state to send the massacre suspects to jail.
"This is meant to silence the witnesses and terrify those still thinking of testifying," he told AFP.


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