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Philippine Raid Nabs Communist Rebel Commander

Philippine troops and police captured a senior communist rebel commander, officials said Wednesday as a 19-day Christmas truce ended this week with both sides vowing to step up fighting.

Tirso Alcantara, the rebel New People's Army commander responsible for the main island of Luzon, was wounded when he tried to draw his gun as special army troops backed by police raided a village south of the capital late Tuesday, said army chief Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz.

Alcantara, also known by his nom de guerre Comrade Bart, is one of the highest-ranking members of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines to be arrested recently, even though the guerrillas and the government earlier agreed to resume stalled peace talks in February on ending the 42-year insurgency.

Military spokesman Col. Generoso Bolina said troops were tipped off that Alcantara was in a house outside Lucena city, but when they arrived he had already escaped by motorcycle. They chased him down and caught up with him and his accomplice at a road checkpoint, he said.

Government negotiators have expressed hope that last year's election of reformist President Benigno Aquino III on the promise he would reduce poverty and improve governance would soften the rural-based Marxist insurgency, one of Asia's longest that has survived decades of military crackdown.

Christmas Cease-Fire

Both sides implemented a cease-fire over the Christmas holidays that lasted 19 days, the longest truce in a decade.

According to the military, battle setbacks, surrenders, infighting and loss of foreign support have reduced the guerrilla force to less than 5,000 from a peak of 25,000 in the 1980s, during the reign of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

From their jungle camps, the rebels have carried out hit-and-run ambushes. They operate a shadow government in areas under their influence, dispensing justice including trials - and sometimes executions - of erring policemen and village officials. They also collect "revolutionary taxes" - and punish businesses refusing to pay.

The government blames the rebellion for stunting economic development through extortion and attacks. The U.S. and European Union have blacklisted the guerrillas as a terrorist organization, a stumbling block that led to the 2004 breakdown in Norwegian-brokered talks.

Quezon provincial police chief Ericson Velasquez said Alcantara used to be a spokesman for a rebel unit that had successfully hit government troops and seized several soldiers, then was promoted as the head of the Communist Party organ giving political guidance to the NPA.

Alcantara was transferred to a military hospital Wednesday, Ortiz said. He is facing 23 warrants for murder.

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