MANILA, May 3 (Reuters) Communist rebels attacked a small mining firm in the southern Philippines, the third raid this month on the industry, a senior police officer said today.
Geary Barias, regional police chief on the southern island of Mindanao, said insurgents from the New People's Army had stormed a mining village on Monday, disarmed a police officer and seized equipment before shooting and wounding two miners.
''We sent extra police officers to investigate the incident and asked the military to help us chase the group of rebels who fled to the nearby hills,'' Barias told reporters, adding charges were being prepared against the insurgents.
Barias said they were looking into reports the attack could be linked to extortion.
The Maoist NPA, fighting the world's oldest communist insurgency, levies ''revolutionary taxes'', pegged at around two percent of gross profit, on companies in rural areas. Those who don't pay up are usually attacked.
NPA extortion has been on the rise since the United States and some European countries put the group, formed in 1969, on their terrorism blacklists in 2003, choking off overseas funding.
The Philippines, Washington's closest security partner in Southeast Asia, has labelled the Maoists its top security threat, ahead of Muslim rebels also active on Mindanao.
While Islamic militants are based in the south of the country, the NPA is active in 69 of 79 provinces. Communist raids and fighting between the rebels and the government has killed more than 40,000 people and stunted investment and tourism.
NPA attacks on remote police stations have increased since the start of the year and rebels have been targeting businesses such as telecommunications, logging and mining to raise money to buy weapons and ammunition and to recruit and train fighters.
Mining officials said Monday's attack was the third in four weeks after a suspected NPA squad burned the facilities and equipment of a medium-sized firm in southern Mindanao and an Australian-controlled company in the northern Philippines.
Manila estimates the NPA's membership at around 6,500, down from a peak of more than 25,000 in the mid-1980s. But in a recent interview with Reuters, the chief NPA spokesman said it had around 8,000 cadres.
Peace talks with the communists, brokered by Norway, stalled in August 2004 when Manila refused to help persuade the United States and some Western European states to remove the NPA from terrorism blacklists.
REUTERS CH PM1400