Communist rebel officer arrested in Philippines

MANILA - A high-ranking communist rebel officer has been arrested in the Philippines, a military official said on Saturday, amid a surge of deadly clashes between soldiers and the insurgents.

Hopes of reviving peace talks with the rebels have dimmed since the arrest of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife, the party's secretary general Wilma Tiamzon, in March.

On Friday police arrested Felix Armodia - a regional secretary of the New People's Army (NPA), the CPP's armed wing - in the southern island of Mindanao, the region's military commander said in a statement.

Lieutenant General Ricardo Rainier Cruz said Armodia was arrested after local residents tipped off authorities.

"The public is now aware that their role in peace and security in the region is vital to the success of the security operations," Cruz said.

The decades-old Maoist rebellion of the CPP has claimed 30,000 lives, according to estimates by the government, which believes the rebels continue to pose a threat despite the NPA comprising of only 4,000 guerrillas - down from more than 26,000 in the late 1980s.

Armodia is accused of masterminding a series of attacks on businesses and farms that did not give in to NPA extortion demands, the general said.

There has been an increase in the number of deadly encounters following the arrest of the CPP leaders.

Three soldiers were killed in a NPA ambush in the northern Philippines on Thursday, while three NPA guerillas were killed in a clash with troops in Mindanao on Wednesday.

A NPA officer, Recto Golimlim, was killed while fighting with troops in the town of Magallanes, 560 kilometres (350 miles) south of Manila on April 27.

He was the region's second-in-command as well as being an explosives expert, a military statement said.

The guerrillas frequently ambush or raid small military and police units and extort money from rural businesses, military officials say.

President Benigno Aquino had hoped to reach a peace agreement with the communists by the end of his term in 2016, but in April last year the government declared the talks had collapsed.

The prospects of reopening negotiations have faded with the arrest of the Tiamzons as the insurgents continue to launch attacks despite the capture of their leaders.