Philippines search finds weapons


Soldiers using sniffer dogs and shovels dug up rifles, machineguns and hundreds of crates of ammunition at a farm owned by a powerful political clan linked to a massacre of 57 people in the southern Philippines, officials said today.

It was the largest haul in four days of searches in several private properties of the Ampatuan family who have ruled for nearly a decade in Muslim-dominated Maguindanao.

Troops dug around the mango orchard owned by Maguindanao's former governor, a close ally of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and father of a local mayor who is the main suspect in the deaths of members of a rival political clan, lawyers, journalists, and civilians on November 23rd.

The killings raised fears next year's elections would be bloody and violent, but the tension is so far confined to some parts of Maguindanao, where Ms Arroyo imposed martial law late on Friday to stymie reported rebellion plans of groups loyal to the Ampatuans.

The martial law order was officially announced yesterday.

"We've been getting a lot of information from people who want to help us in our search for guns that may have been used in the murders," Col Leo Ferrer, brigade commander, told reporters.

Businesses and marketplaces were closed and streets were empty in Maguindanao province today, while civilians started to flee their homes and farms due to fears violence may erupt soon.

Hours after the declaration of martial law, authorities found 330 boxes of bullets, three Armalite rifles, an armoured vehicle, two army vehicles and three police cars at a grains warehouse owned by the Ampatuans.

Andal Ampatuan jr now in custody, is suspected to have orchestrated the attack on members of a rival political clan on their way to file the candidacy of one of their leaders for elections next year. About 30 local journalists and two lawyers in the convoy were among the dead.