Philippine rebels stage attack just before Christmas truce

Philippine rebels stage attack just before Christmas truce

MANILA - Communist insurgents in the southern Philippines torched three taxis barely an hour before their 48-hour Christmas truce took effect, police said Tuesday.

New People's Army (NPA) guerrillas burned the three cabs of Holiday Taxi company in the city of Panabo late Monday, about an hour before midnight when their truce started, said regional police spokesman Chief Inspector Jed Clamor.

"This was planned. They hired the three taxis in different areas, had them go to Panabo and then they pointed guns at the drivers and commandeered the taxis," before burning them, he said.

He said the 10 gunmen identified themselves to the drivers as members of the NPA.

Police suspect the incident was part of an extortion attempt against the taxi company.

The NPA, which is active in the hinterlands of the Philippine archipelago, has long resorted to extorting money from rural businesses to raise funds.

The Communist Party of the Philippines, which controls the 4,000-strong NPA, had earlier declared a 48-hour Christmas truce from December 24 as well as another 48-hour ceasefire from New Year's Eve.

President Benigno Aquino had declared his own unilateral truce with the NPA from December 21 to January 15.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the government peace negotiating panel called on the communists "to be faithful to the spirit and letter of the ceasefire that they have declared and to respect the prolonged ceasefire declared by our government".

The government has repeatedly called ceasefires with the communist rebels over the Christmas season, one of the most celebrated events in the largely-Roman Catholic nation.

Aquino had been aiming to end the leftist rebellion before he leaves office in 2016, but the government said in April that peace talks had collapsed.

The fighting has claimed 30,000 lives since 1969 according to the government tally.

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