Philippine troops clashed Monday with armed followers of a political warlord who was arrested in connection with the country’s worst election-related massacre, killing two gunmen, the military said.
Troops on combat patrol confronted about 30 men in the outskirts of southern Maguindanao province on Monday, triggering a gunfight that killed two, said military spokesman Maj. Randolph Cabangbang.
Prosecutors have charged Andal Ampatuan Sr., a former three-term Maguindanao governor, and his son, Andal Ampatuan Jr., with murder in connection with the killings of 57 people on November 23.
Among the massacre victims were supporters and relatives of Esmael Mangudadatu, who is running for governor of the province. They were headed to an election office to file Mangudadatu’s candidacy papers when they were killed, along with at least 30 journalists and staff members who were providing news coverage of the event.
The Ampatuans have denied the charges, and most of their followers have fled a crackdown in the province. Still, thousands of militiamen loyal to the Ampatuan clan are in hiding and considered a security threat in Maguindanao. They are being pursued by government troops.
“Those who remain in hiding are the ones probably directly involved in the massacre,” said Cabangbang, adding that thousands of troops continue to provide security in the impoverished province.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who had previously struck a political alliance with the Ampatuans, has named a commission to recommend steps to rid the Philippines of more than 100 private armies that illegally operate on the payroll of political warlords.