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Philippine police capture top communist rebel leader

MANILA, January 5, 2011 (AFP) – Philippine police said Wednesday they captured a senior communist guerrilla leader following a gunfight in which he was wounded, potentially affecting long-suspended peace talks slated to resume next week.

The arrest of New People’s Army (NPA) “commander” Tirso Alcantara late Tuesday came just over a day after a Christmas truce ended and shortly after the guerrillas vowed to launch attacks.

Regional police commander Chief Superintendent Samuel Pagdilao said Alcantara resisted arrest when police and army intelligence units tracked him to a rebel hideout in Lucena city, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Manila.

“He attempted to draw his firearm, resulting in a brief exchange of fire. He sustained a gunshot wound to his buttocks and is now being treated by doctors,” Pagdilao told reporters.

Pagdilao said Alcantara, 57, was the NPA’s “regional operational commander” for rebel fronts in several provinces on the main island of Luzon.

Alcantara is the highest ranking NPA leader arrested in recent years and had outstanding warrants of arrest for murder, kidnapping and robbery, Pagdilao said.

Alcantara’s chief aide, Apolonio Cuarto, was also arrested, according to Pagdilao.

The 4,700-strong NPA is the armed unit of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging a Maoist rebellion since 1969 that has left thousands dead.

Rebel leaders were scheduled to meet with government negotiators for preliminary peace talks next week in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, their first since 2004.

Communist Party leaders said Alcantara was among its list of consultants in the talks whom the government earlier guaranteed would enjoy immunity from arrest, Manila’s chief peace negotiator Alex Padilla told AFP.

They also demanded Alcantara be set free before the talks began, according to Padilla, but he said he doubted the arrest would impact on the negotiations.

“They have already raised concern about the arrest, but so far as we know the talks next week will proceed as planned,” Padilla told AFP.

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