Suspect in brutal Philippines massacre slain by police

MANILA (AFP) - Police shot dead a gunman accused of taking part in the Philippines' worst political massacre on the orders of a powerful clan after he resisted arrest, an official said Monday.

Muktar Santo was allegedly involved in the November 2009 murder of 58 people in the strife-torn southern island of Mindanao and was shot dead along with two companions when security forces raided his hideout, local police chief Senior Superintendent Rolen Balquin said.

The massacre, in which 32 journalists were also killed, caused global revulsion and spotlighted political violence in the Philippines.

"We received information from intelligence regarding the whereabouts of this suspect. We were greeted by a gunshot upon approaching the rented house, thus starting a shootout," Mr Balquin told AFP. "One of them was shot while in the act of removing a safety pin of a live fragmentation grenade," he added.

A reward of 250,000 pesos (S$7,095) was offered for the arrest of Santo who was allegedly part of the private army of the powerful Ampatuan clan accused of carrying out the killings.

Armed followers of the Ampatuans stopped a convoy carrying members of a rival political clan along with an accompanying group of journalists and lawyers, later killing and burying them elsewhere.

The massacre is considered to be the worst case of election-related violence in the Philippines.

The Ampatuans allegedly ordered the massacre to stop a rival from running against one of its members for the governorship of Maguindanao, a poor farming province.

Mr Balquin said Santo and his two companions were also implicated in a series of separate killings in the south.

Police recovered an assault rifle, a pistol and six grenades at the scene.

Over a hundred suspects, including leaders of the Ampatuan clan, are already detained and many are on trial for the mass murder.

But dozens of suspects still remain at large while the slow pace of the trial has raised fears that witnesses could be intimidated or targeted by those who carried out the killings.

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