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Philippines OKs Xmas truce with communist rebels

December 15, 2011
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MANILA, Philippines—Philippine President Benigno Aquino III approved a holiday cease-fire with communist rebels beginning Friday in a traditional goodwill gesture that follows a recent wave of guerrilla attacks.

Government troops and police were ordered Thursday to refrain from offensive operations and return fire only in self-defense from Friday to Jan. 2, officials said. The rebels, who usually reciprocate with their own cease-fire, have not announced any self-imposed truce.

The rural-based New People's Army rebels have been fighting for a Marxist state since 1969 in one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies. Washington has included the rebel group in a list of terrorist organizations.

Military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said troops would continue self-defense work. The cease-fire "shall not include military actions aimed to secure and protect the populace, vital installations, major investment infrastructures and communities against violent attacks," he said.

A vanload of rebels, clad in police camouflage, attacked a jail in remote Lianga town in southern Surigao del Sur province Thursday, seizing a rifle, shotgun, 3 pistols, combat boots and cellphones. Nobody was injured, regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Leopoldo Galon said.

Army troops clashed apparently with a separate group of rebels also in Lianga an hour before the jail attack but nobody was injured in the fighting, Galon said.

The rebels have stepped up attacks on troops, foreign-owned agricultural plantations and foreign mining companies, accusing them of exploiting resources and local workers. The government accuses the rebels of extorting money from businesses.

In October, more than 200 guerrillas stormed three nickel mining complexes in Claver town in Surigao del Norte province. The rebels disarmed guards, briefly held employees and torched trucks, heavy equipment and company offices in some of their largest attacks in recent years.

Marathon peace talks brokered by Norway have stalled over rebel demands for the release of jailed guerrillas.

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