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Six killed in Philippines communist rebel clash

world Updated: Jul 31, 2013 11:29 IST

Six communist rebels led by a woman were killed in clashes with Philippine troops in the latest flare-up in one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies, the military said on Wednesday.

Residents tipped off the military late on Tuesday about nine New People's Army (NPA) rebels who were trying to set up a support network in a village in the northern province of Tarlac, military spokesman lieutenant-colonel Ramon Zagala said.

"The rebels are trying to gain leverage in the area," Zagala said.

Three other rebels escaped during the firefight that lasted into the early hours of Wednesday, he said. Zagala did not name their slain woman leader.

He said the six dead rebels were among only 19 NPA members believed to be still operating in Tarlac, adding that the tip-off supported the military's view that guerrilla influence in the province had dwindled.

The NPA insurgency was started by rebels based in Tarlac in 1969. The rebellion later spread across most of the country and claimed at least 30,000 lives by government estimate.

However, the military estimates the guerrillas' nationwide ranks are down to about 4,000 fighters after a successful counter-insurgency campaign, down from a peak of roughly 26,000 in the 1980s.

"Rather than have more encounters (firefights) with the NPA, we encourage them to give up the armed struggle. They don't need to die", said Zagala.

President Benigno Aquino had opened peace talks with the NPA's front organisation the National Democratic Front, aimed at ending the communist insurgency before his six-year term expires in 2016.

However the negotiations collapsed in April and last month the chief government negotiator resigned, citing his frustration with the stalled talks.

Elsewhere in the Philippines, a high-ranking female officer of the NPA was arrested last weekend while six rebels were killed after a gunbattle with the military earlier this month.