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The Philippines

Philippine rebels abduct soldiers and militiamen in predawn raid on Mindanao military base

  • Government forces say they are trying to track down about 80 New People’s Army rebels who took hostages in the attack
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 8:53pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 8:58pm

Communist guerillas abducted two soldiers and at least a dozen militiamen in an attack on an army base in the south of the Philippines on Wednesday, officials said.

Government forces are trying to track down about 80 New People’s Army rebels who took the hostages in a predawn attack on an army patrol base near Sibagat town in Agusan del Sur province, according to Military Chief of Staff General Benjamin Madrigal Junior.

The guerillas seized more than 20 assault rifles and two-way radio equipment apparently without firing a shot.

“That’s the report we got, there’s no firefight,” said regional military commander Major General Ronald Villanueva, suggesting the troops were overwhelmed.

December 26 marks the Communist Party of the Philippines’ 50th anniversary. Marxist guerillas have marked revolutionary milestones by waging attacks in the past, military officials said.

The latest attack is likely to further enrage President Rodrigo Duterte, who has scrapped peace talks with the rebels that were brokered by Norway in protest at the continuing insurgent attacks on government forces, agricultural plantations and mining firms.

Because of the violence perpetrated by the rebels, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to push through with the peace talks,” Duterte said in a speech late on Tuesday. “I do not consider them revolutionary. They are just plain bandits and that is the way we should treat them.”

Known for his public outbursts, the volatile president has warned that he would stop accepting rebels who surrender if the guerilla violence continues.

“If the time comes that I get fed up with this, I will no longer accept those who will surrender,” Duterte said. “Son of a bitch don’t surrender any more because if I see you again, I will shoot you. No more surrenders because you are a cruel and brutal people.”

The president said he was considering a plan to contain tribesmen in the hinterlands to keep them out of the insurgents’ reach. According to the military, the guerillas use tribal communities to fight government forces. Human rights groups counter with allegations of military abuses against tribal communities.

“I will hamlet them. You natives won’t be able to say that you’re being imprisoned. But I will make a secure place for you that will be your territory for the meantime,” Duterte said. “I will be the one to decide whether you’ll be given arms. No one else will be able to enter. You will be the ones who will guard it.”

A Communist rebellion in the Philippines’ impoverished countryside has been ongoing since 1969. Over the past half-century it has caused about 40,000 combatant and civilians deaths and undermined security and development. The military estimates up to 4,000 Marxist insurgents still fight despite years of battle setbacks.

Duterte resumed peace talks with the rebels when he took power in 2016, but cancelled them last year to protest continued guerilla attacks on troops. He also signed an order declaring the rebel group a terrorist organisation, a label the insurgents have opposed. The United States has also designated the rebels as terrorists.