Police shoot dead Philippine massacre suspect

Philippine police said on Saturday they had shot dead a suspect in the 2009 killings of 58 people, the country's worst political massacre, after he hurled a grenade and fired a pistol at them.

Maguid Amil resisted arrest after being approached by policemen in the strife-torn southern province of Maguindanao on Friday, Senior Superintendent Melecio Mina said.

The grenade did not explode but officers fired back, killing Amil, he added.

Maguindanao police chief Senior Superintendent Rodelio Jocson said the policemen survived because Amil apparently forgot to pull the grenade's pin.

"He must have gotten flustered. He did not pull out the pin before he threw it at the policemen," said Jocson.

Elsewhere in Maguindanao on Friday, another suspect, Nasser Guia, was arrested by police acting on a tip-off, Mina said.

Both Guia and Amil were allegedly part of the private army of the powerful Ampatuan clan who stopped a rival political group's convoy and herded dozens to an isolated hillside where they were murdered.

"Both Amil and Guia were among those who flagged down the convoy in November, 2009 and were among those who herded the victims to... the massacre site," said Mina, citing eyewitnesses.

The killing of members of the rival clan, lawyers, journalists and even by-standers, was apparently intended to prevent a rival candidate from running against an Ampatuan in elections in May 2010.

The massacre shocked the nation, forcing then president Gloria Arroyo to crack down on her former allies, the Ampatuans.

Originally, only 57 people were listed as victims of the massacre but a 58th person was confirmed by authorities last year to be among the fatalities even if his body was never recovered.

Although key Ampatuan clan members are now being tried for the crime, more than three years later, dozens of other suspects remain at large, raising fears they will intimidate witnesses while protecting the clan's interests.

The trial is seen as a test of whether the Philippines can abolish the "culture of impunity" surrounding powerful figures who feel they can commit crimes without fear of punishment.

Government lawyers and human rights advocates warn that the trial could take years due to delaying tactics by some of the wealthy defendants and the overburdened legal system.

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