Dozens of gunmen hijacked a convoy carrying journalists, and family and supporters of a candidate for provincial governor, killing at least 21 of the travellers on Monday in the southern Philippines’ worst political violence in years.

There was no claim of responsibility for the bloodshed in the predominantly Muslim region wracked by political tensions between rival clans.

The convoy of vans carrying about 40 people was hijacked in Maguindanao province, about 900 km south of Manila, and army troops later found the bullet-riddled bodies of 13 women and eight men, regional military commander Major-General Alfredo Cayton said.

It was unclear if anyone survived the attack. An army and police search was under way for the other hostages.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said at least 10 local reporters were part of the convoy. Their organisation failed to reach them, leading them to conclude they too were killed.

“Never in the history of journalism have the news media suffered such a heavy loss of life in one day,” Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

The politician, Ismael Mangudadatu, was not in the convoy and said his wife called him by mobile phone shortly before she and her entourage were abducted.

“She said they were stopped by 100 uniformed armed men. Then her line got cut off,” he said. He said his wife and relatives were among the dead.

Philippine elections are particularly violent in the south because of the presence of armed groups, including Muslim rebels fighting for self-rule.

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