Page last updated at 10:14 GMT, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Philippines massacre victims 'begged for lives'

Andal Ampatuan Junior in jail
Andal Ampatuan Jr denies multiple murder charges

The first eyewitness to testify against the chief suspect in a massacre in the southern Philippines has described how he saw victims beg for their lives.

Ampatuan town Vice-Mayor Rasul Sangki said he had seen Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr shoot people at close range.

Mr Ampatuan denies multiple charges of murder over the attack, which killed members of a rival political family, as well as reporters travelling with them.

Mr Sangki said Mr Ampatuan asked him to keep quiet about what he had seen.

Brutal attack

Mr Ampatuan has pleaded not guilty to 41 counts of murder and is applying for bail.

Police recover victim's body from mass grave in Maguindanao - 24 November 2009
Many of the victims were buried in hastily dug mass graves

The national police headquarters in Manila, where a bail hearing is being held, was under heavy security as he was escorted in for the day's proceedings.

The bodies of 57 people were found in a mass grave in a secluded mountainous part of Maguindanao last November.

Some had been brutalised - many of them were women.

Among the victims was the wife of a rival political family member, Toto Mangudadatu.

She had been on her way to file his candidacy papers for a local election, with 30 journalists and media workers.

Mr Sangki said a roadblock had been set up, the victims loaded on to a lorry at gunpoint and taken to a mountainside, where they had been killed by Mr Ampatuan and his men.

According to the BBC's Asia correspondent, Alastair Leithead, it was an act of violence that profoundly shocked people - even in an area of the country used to executions and killings by rival groups.

Armed militia acting like private armies are common in Maguindanao, where family rivalries and overlapping insurgencies make for a complex picture of violent clashes, our correspondent says.

Other members of the Ampatuan family are being held in custody on charges of rebellion, but Mr Ampatuan is so far the only person who has been indicted for the deaths.

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