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Philippine communists step up attacks, torch bus

Written by: Staff
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MANILA, Mar 21 (Reuters) Philippine communist guerrillas have stepped up attacks outside Manila, ransacking a police station and burning a commuter bus this week, police officials said here today.

Arturo Lomibao, the national police chief, said the country was on increased alert for more rebel raids ahead of the founding anniversary of the Maoist-led New People's Army (NPA) on March 29.

''They would always try to surprise lightly-defended stations to collect more guns,'' he said, adding the rebels were stepping up offensives to collect ''war taxes'' and steal more weapons to make up for their losses in gun battles.

Florante Baguio, a regional police chief on the southern island of Mindanao, said NPA rebels, posing as soldiers, disarmed six police officers in a station at a farming town in the north of Mindanao yesterday.

''The rebels cleaned up the armoury of eight assault rifles in just five minutes,'' Baguio told reporters, adding a police officer tried to put up a fight, preventing the NPAs from taking radio equipment and other supplies.

In a coastal town northwest of Manila, suspected communist rebels burned an air-conditioned bus at a transport terminal this morning in apparent retribution for the bus company's refusal to pay ''revolutionary war taxes''.

The Philippines estimates the NPA membership at more than 7,000 down from a peak of more than 25,000 in the mid-1980s.

The insurgency of Maoist-led guerrillas, which has killed more than 40,000 people, is active in 69 of 79 provinces and has delayed development.

Peace talks with the communists, brokered by Norway, have stalled since August 2004 when Manila refused to help persuade the United States and some western European states to remove the NPA from terrorism blacklists.

NPA rebels have taken advantage of security officials' focus on internal probes after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said last month she had uncovered a plot by renegade troops and leftist foes to oust her.

The attack in northern Mindanao was the third since Friday when rebels, wearing jackets inscribed with ''National Bureau of Investigation'', ransacked a police station in northwestern Philippines.

On Saturday, rebels took a machinegun and seven rifles and a handgun in an attack on a police outpost in Escalante City on the central Philippine island of Negros.

REUTERS SHB SSC1442

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