Charges refiled in Philippine massacre

The Philippines’ top justice
official has reinstated murder charges against two regional leaders over the
country’s worst massacre in living memory.

Justice Secretary Alberto Agra said
new evidence had come to light implicating cousins Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan.

The men, who deny the charges,
belong to a powerful clan allegedly involved in the mass killing of 57
political rivals and journalists last November.

Mr Agra had triggered a public outcry
when he cleared the men last month.

He had faced heavy criticism from
the families of the victims and prosecutors since the decision

But in a statement he said new
testimony had provided evidence to charge Zaldy Ampatuan, a former governor of
Maguindanao province, and his cousin Akmad.

“I am now convinced that there
is probable cause,” he told reporters.

“The surfacing of a new
witness who pinned down Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan was apparently the result in
part of the decisive measures taken by the Department of Justice.”

The two accused are brother and
cousin of Andal Ampatuan Jnr, a former town mayor and the chief suspect in the
massacre on 23 November.

Mr Ampatuan Jnr, currently on trial
in Manila, has denied 41 counts of murder.

Fifty-seven people were killed
after their convoy was attacked in the remote region.

They had been on their way to file
nomination papers for local politician Ismael Mangudadatu, who is running for
the Maguindanao governorship in elections which begin on 10 May.

The body of Mr Mangudadatu’s wife
was among those later found in a mass grave.

The Ampatuan clan was closely
allied to outgoing Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, but since the killings
Mr Ampatuan Jr, his father and his brother Zalday have been expelled from her
party.

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