Philippine massacre trial begins

The trial of a Muslim politician, accused of murdering 57 people in the Philippines, began today.

Manila: A powerful Muslim politician went on trial Wednesday, accused of murdering 57 people in the worst political massacre in the Philippines, AFP reporters in the
courtroom said.

The first witness, a man named Lakmudin Suliya, climbed
onto the stand after lower court judge Jocelyn Reyes rejected
a motion by lawyers for main defendant Andal Ampatuan Jnr to
move back the start of the trial 10 days.

Ampatuan and more than 100 gunmen allegedly stopped a
convoy belonging to a political rival in the southern
Philippines in November last year, killed 57 people and pushed
the bodies into mass graves the suspects had dug beforehand.

Manette Salaysay, a relative of one of the victims who
attended the court session, hailed the start of the trial,
which had been delayed for five months.

"It is difficult to fight these devils," she told AFP,
referring to Ampatuan and 16 police officers also facing
trial, accused of taking part in the massacre.

"We want to see the light of justice," Salaysay added.
Ampatuan, wearing a yellow prison shirt and flanked by
plainclothes police, sat impassively behind his lawyers as the
witness was sworn in.

The trial, held at a special courtroom built inside a
maximum-security police jail in southern Manila, is being held
amid allegations of witness intimidation and fears the case
could drag on for years.

It was to start last week but Reyes moved it back seven
days to give the Ampatuan lawyers more time to comment on
previous court rulings related to the case.

Rights groups and the victims` relatives have accused the
Ampatuans of applying delaying tactics while ordering their
men to terrorise witnesses.

Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia chief of the New York-based
monitor Human Rights Watch, said five people with knowledge of
alleged abuses by the Ampatuans had been killed since the massacre.
The five included a key massacre witness who could have
placed Ampatuan at the scene, she said.

"Abuses in Maguindanao have not stopped with the arrest
of six members of the Ampatuan family," Pearson said in a
"Prompt investigation of ongoing crimes is essential to
prevent further killing and to stop suspects from interfering
with the trial."