Cadaver hunt in Philippines massacre ends: police

Police have ended a grisly search for corpses and mass graves from an election-linked massacre in the southern Philippines, with the known death toll standing at 57, officials said Saturday.

The authorities dismissed several news reports that quoted a police official saying he had counted 64 bodies from the slaughter just off a farming road in the province of Maguindanao on Mindanao island.

"We ended the search yesterday," Senior Superintendent Bienvenido Latag, the police chief of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, told reporters by telephone.

"We have 57 bodies in our official list. Of course we are still checking and if there are reports of more bodies we will verify those. But so far, the information that we have is that the total has not changed."

A general view of the shallow grave where the bodies of victims of massacre were found in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province.

Chief Superintendent Josefino Cataluna, the police chief of central Mindanao, also confirmed the toll.

The last 11 were pulled out from two adjacent mass graves on Wednesday, including five who were entombed along with three vehicles, police said.

The government has charged a local official in the area, Andal Ampatuan Jnr, with ordering and taking part in the killings. He surrendered to police Thursday and has been flown to Manila where he was detained.

On Friday Ampatuan Jnr was indicted of ordering his private militia of more than 100 gunmen to open fire on the group, which included relatives of rival Muslim politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, some journalists and passing motorists who had no known quarrel with the gunmen.

Ampatuan Jnr is a mayor in the southern Philippines who until this week was an ally of President Gloria Arroyo and a member of her ruling coalition.

Eight other members of the powerful Ampatuan clan have been invited for police questioning after witnesses also linked them to the killings.

The relatives and the journalists had been travelling to an election office to nominate Mangudadatu to run against Ampatuan Jnr for the post of provincial governor in next year's elections.

source AFP

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