MANILA, January 24, 2011 (AFP) – Communist rebels in the Philippines killed five police officers, authorities said Monday, in their first major assault since agreeing to hold peace talks aimed at ending a decades-long insurgency.
In a daylight ambush, the New People’s Army rebels set off a landmine and then fired on a police vehicle carrying the officers in the small northern town of Rizal on Sunday, the police and military said.
“They (the victims) were riding a marked police vehicle on their way back from a mission when they were ambushed,” said Eric Fernandez, a spokesman for the national police headquarters in Manila.
Among those killed were Rizal’s police chief, Inspector Antonio Rueco, and his wife, who is also a police officer, according to Fernandez.
Three other policemen were killed and another one was wounded, he said.
The ambush was the first major rebel attack since the government and insurgents agreed last week to resume peace talks in Norway from February 15 to 21.
The scheduled negotiations will be the first formal talks between the two sides since negotiations broke down in 2004.
After the apparent breakthrough in securing an agreement to talk, President Benigno Aquino’s government said that it hoped to end the insurgency – which began in 1969 – within three years.
However security analysts told AFP they doubted that the rebellion, one of the longest and deadliest in Asia, would be over by 2014.
They say that even though the rebels’ manpower is down to an estimated 4,700 guerrillas, huge ideological differences remain between the communists and government that will prevent a permanent peace.
Military spokesman Brigadier General Jose Mabanta also said Sunday’s attack was proof that guerrillas on the ground did not want to broker a peace and give up their arms.
“While we continue our confidence-building efforts, on their part they are showing bad faith. I don’t think the instructions of their leadership are being implemented at the lower level,” he told AFP.