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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Philippine communist rebels kill soldier, take guns

MANILA, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Philippine communist rebels killed one soldier and seized 29 assault rifles with ammunition in a raid on an army outpost on the troubled southern island of Mindanao, the guerrillas and the military said on Wednesday.

A member of a paramilitary force also was wounded when about 50 New People's Army (NPA) rebels stormed the detachment near Valencia City on Tuesday night, an army spokesman said, describing the attack as a "big debacle".

"It will be investigated because many firearms were taken," Major Ernesto Torres told reporters in Manila.

The NPA, fighting one of the world's oldest communist insurgencies, often attacks remote military and police facilities to steal weapons and ammunition.

"Our fighters caught them by complete surprise," Cesar Renerio, an NPA spokesman in Bukidnon province, told reporters.

"Several members of a paramilitary unit inside the base did not offer any resistance. At least 29 M-16 rifles were taken from the detachment."

The Philippines, Washington's closest security partner in Southeast Asia, estimates NPA membership at around 7,000, down from a peak of more than 25,000 in the mid-1980s.

Fuelled by widespread poverty and a sense of injustice, especially in rural areas, the NPA has been waging a violent, hit-and-run insurgency since the late 1960s and is active in 69 of 79 provinces.

At least 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Peace talks with the communists, brokered by Norway, stalled in 2004 when Manila refused to persuade the United States and some European states to remove the NPA from terror blacklists.
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