More than 100 suspects held in Philippine massacre

More than 100 suspects in the Philippines' worst political massacre are in custody after another member of a prominent political clan linked to the 57 killings was arrested, police said Wednesday.

Sajid Anwar Ampatuan, grandson of the accused mastermind Andal Ampatuan Snr, did not resist arrest when he was tracked down Tuesday at a gated middle-class housing development in Manila, police spokesman Don de Dios said.

The 22-year-old was armed with a handgun, he said, and is accused of taking a direct part in the murders in the southern province of Maguindanao in November 2009.

"There is a new directive to intensify the manhunt for the prominent suspects, instead of their underlings," de Dios told AFP.

The massacre was allegedly orchestrated by the Ampatuans in a bid to stop a political rival from challenging one of them for the post of governor in Maguindanao, which they had ruled for a decade.

The clan patriarch's son and namesake, Andal Ampatuan Jnr, allegedly led the family's relatives and bodyguards in kidnapping the rival's wife, relatives, lawyers and 32 journalists, and shooting them dead.

After nearly three years of one of the country's most wide-ranging manhunts, 102 suspects including the patriarch, along with Sajid Anwar's father and brother, are in police custody, de Dios said.

But more than 90 of the gunmen, many of them earlier armed by the Philippine government to help the military and the police fight Muslim insurgents in the south, remain at large.

Human rights groups have urged the government to speed up the prosecution of the case and arrest the remaining suspects, amid allegations the clan was sending out assassins to kill those who testify against them.

Prosecutors said at least three witnesses had already died at the hands of hired killers. Another 10 were put under a government witness protection programme after they received death threats.

Government lawyers have said the murder trial could last several years.

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