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Buried vehicles found as massacre toll hits 57

Security forces found 11 more bodies and vehicles buried at the site of an election-related massacre in the southern Philippines, taking the toll to 57 dead, officials said.
Image: Wreckage of vehicles believed to be used in transporting victims of a pre-elections crime are dug up in southern Philippines
Wreckage of a vehicle believed to be linked to an election-related massacre is dug up from a hillside in Ampatuan in the southern Philippines on Wednesday.Rolex Dela Pena / EPA
/ Source: news services

Security forces found 11 more bodies Wednesday and vehicles buried at the site of an election-related massacre in the southern Philippines, taking the toll to 57 dead, officials said.

Not all have been identified, but 22 of them were believed to be journalists, making Monday's attack the deadliest ever on the media anywhere in the world. Thirty-three of the victims were men and 24 were women, police said.

The government has clamped emergency rule on the province of Maguindanao, where the killings took place, and in adjoining Sultan Kudarat province and Cotabato City. Truckloads of troops were brought to the area Wednesday and armored cars were parked along highways.

"The perpetrators will not escape justice," President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told reporters. "The law will hunt them until they are caught."

Arroyo has been under local and international pressure to swiftly punish the attackers but no suspects have been formally named.

Police say they are investigating a member of a powerful clan along with four police officers.

The army also disbanded a 200-member paramilitary force under the control of local officials in Maguindanao and sent an extra 500 soldiers, pulled out from a central island in the Philippines, to reduce tension in the area.

'Heinous crime'
Investigators have said they will probe allegations that some members of the paramilitary force participated in the killings.

The massacre has been condemned around the world. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it a "heinous crime."

"The Secretary-General extends heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and hopes that no effort will be spared to bring justice and to hold the perpetrators accountable," a U.N. statement said.

The journalists were accompanying several women of the powerful Mangudadatu clan to file the candidacy of one of the family for the provincial governor's post in elections next year.

No men from the family were present, since they believed that women would not be attacked by rivals.

Their convoy was stopped by about 100 armed men, who herded them to a remote hillside and attacked them with M-16 rifles and machetes. Two of their vehicles and many bodies were thrown into a freshly-dug pit and covered with earth by an excavator.

A Reuters photographer at the scene said the vehicles were buried with dead men at the wheel.

Clan feuds are common in the southern Philippines and the Mangudadatus have been at loggerheads with the Ampatuans, another local family, for months. Datu Andal Ampatuan, the patriarch of the family, has been elected governor of Maguindanao in three previous elections.

The Mangudadatus have blamed supporters of the Ampatuans for the massacre, but no arrests have been made and government officials were guarded in their comments.

"We expect to file criminal complaints as soon as we finish documentation and the investigation process," Ricardo Blancaflor, a justice department undersecretary, told Reuters.

"We're looking for direct evidence to pin down those behind these gruesome murders. We're now getting statements and waiting for the medico-legal reports needed for filing the complaints."

Both families have close links to Arroyo.