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Philippines massacre: Commission to take on 100 private armies

A government-appointed group began working Thursday to disband 132 militias used by politicians to intimidate rivals, after one allegedly killed 57 people in a southern Philippines massacre. Critics worry that only opposition figures' armies will be broken up.

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Andal Ampatuan Jr., the prime suspect in the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao, southern Philippines on Nov. 23, is escorted into the courtroom at the heavily-guarded Philippine National Police headquarters in Manila in on Tuesday.

Bullit Marquez/AP

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A government-appointed special commission set out Thursday on an urgent mission: to supervise the disbandment of private armies long maintained by Philippine politicians in time for May elections, and to convince the public it is sincere in its efforts.

President Gloria Arroyo established the group after a massacre of 57 people in southern Maguindanao Province last November that was linked to one such militia.

The militia was run by the Ampatuan political clan, who were at the time members of Ms. Arroyo's ruling coalition. The Ampatuans have since been expelled. The authorities have accused the family of committing the murders in November to prevent a rival politician from running for governor of the province against them. The principal accused, a mayor named Andal Ampatuan Jr., pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday to multiple charges of murder.

Philippines Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales says there are 132 private militias in the country with a combined strength of 10,000 men that politicians use to intimidate rivals and voters.

But critics worry that only private armies belonging to opposition politicians will be disbanded, especially since the governing party’ s candidate to replace Ms. Arroyo in May is trailing three opposition candidates in the opinion polls.

Skepticism dogs the commission

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