Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Philippine president orders disarmingof `private armies'

ELECTION CONCERNS Political killings have been common, with some rights groups and the Church having expressed concern ahead of polls due in May

AFP , MANILA

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo yesterday ordered the national police to disarm "private armies" controlled by politicians in a bid to curb violence ahead of congressional elections in May.

One of Arroyo's political aides, northern Philippines provincial governor Luis Bersamin, was assassinated outside a Roman Catholic church in Manila last month. Police said the killing was linked to local political rivalries.

That same month, Manila lawmaker Roberto Jaworski was the target of a car bomb attack. He escaped unharmed.

"I am instructing the national police to map out in detail all potential election hotspots, disarm any private armies and help the election commission enforce clean, honest and peaceful polls," Arroyo said in a statement.

The election commission said yesterday it had sought police assistance to keep voters safe during the upcoming polls.

Arroyo also called on opponents to "cut the partisan strife and noise" and join hands in uplifting the lives of the Filipino poor.

The country goes to the polls in May to elect the entire 250-member House of Representatives, half of the 24-seat Senate and thousands of local officials, including governors and mayors.

Political killings are common here, and international rights groups and the Roman Catholic church have expressed concerns over the level of violence.

In the latest incident, two members of the small leftist political party Bayan Muna (People First) were murdered in the province of Sorsogon on Tuesday, according to human rights watchdog Karapatan.

National police chief Director General Oscar Calderon said there were over 90 known "private armies" employed by politicians across the Philippines in the 2004 national polls.

"We have neutralized many of these private armed groups," he said.

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