Friday, May 16, 2008

Philippine Maoist rebels ambush police, 1 dead

MANILA, May 16 (Reuters) - Maoist-led guerrillas ambushed a police patrol near a southern Philippine mining town on Friday, killing one and wounding a dozen others, a day after the government held secret talks with rebel leaders in Norway.

Colonel Allan Luga, an army brigade commander in the Compostela Valley on the troubled southern island of Mindanao, said about 30 communist New People's Army (NPA) rebels ambushed the police team.

"We lost one police officer and three assault rifles to the rebels," Luga said, adding a combined team of soldiers and local police were sent to pursue the NPA group.

"Our pursuit team was slowed down by land mines planted by the rebels on their escape route. Our bomb disposal teams has already recovered some of the improvised explosives."

The NPA ambush came a day after negotiators from the Manila government met rebel representatives in Norway to find ways to resurrect peace talks that have been stalled since August 2004.

"The (government of the Philippines) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) have exchanged views on the status of the peace process," the Norwegian foreign ministry said in a statement.

"The parties have agreed to meet again, and have invited Norway to facilitate a meeting later this year."

Since 1986, Manila has been holding on-and-off talks with the communists' political arm, the NDF, to end one of the longest-running Maoist insurgencies in Asia that has killed more than 40,000 people.

The rebels refused to return to negotiations after Manila declined to help in removing the NDF from terrorism lists of the United States and some Western European states.

Active in 69 of 81 provinces across the country, the NPA is viewed by the government as its most serious security threat, slowing down economic growth in one of the most resource-rich states in Southeast Asia. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson)

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