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Insurgents Near Manila Battle Police; 24 Killed

The rebels, who rejected a peace accord this year, had gathered on their army's 34th anniversary.

March 31, 2003|From Associated Press

MANILA — A least 24 people were killed when troops clashed with communist guerrillas in a hilly area near the Philippine capital, officials said Sunday.

Gun battles raged all day Saturday in Angat and Pandi, towns about 30 miles north of Manila.

About 20 rebels of the communist New People's Army, a soldier and three policemen were killed, the military said. It was the closest the fighting has come to Manila, home to 10 million people, in recent months.

The fighting subsided by Sunday, and government troops were scouring the sparsely populated region in search of other guerrillas, Army Maj. Gen. Alberto Braganza said.

At least 10 bodies of rebels have been recovered, he said.

Officials said about 70 guerrillas had gathered in Angat on Saturday, the 34th anniversary of the founding of the New People's Army.

The group is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The guerrillas apparently had been planning attacks on the Pandi town hall and a cement plant. Police said they were tipped off by residents. As officers arrived on the scene, the guerrillas opened fire, they said.

Reinforced by army troops, police chased the guerrillas southward to Pandi, where the rebels apparently broke up into smaller groups, police said.

In an anniversary statement Saturday, rebel spokesman Gregorio Rosal said the rebels were continuing to expand their presence throughout the Philippines with 27 battalions of "red fighters" -- about 13,500 men -- operating in 120 guerrilla fronts around the country.

Rosal denounced President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for allowing U.S. troops into the country for counter-terrorism maneuvers, which he said showed her growing dependence on Washington to beat insurgents. The government suspended peace talks on the long-running Marxist insurgency in 2001.

Government efforts to resume the talks this year failed after the rebels rejected a peace accord. The United States and the European Union have listed the NPA as a terrorist organization.

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