Communist rebels in Philippines kill 4 police

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Communist rebels opened fire on a police patrol on a mountain road east of the Philippine capital Tuesday, killing four officers and wounding five in the latest clash in a decades-old insurgency.

About 20 New People's Army rebels hid along the road in the township of Baras in Rizal province near Manila, opened fire on the police patrol then detonated a land mine, officials said. The brazen ambush was the latest flare-up in rural insurgency that has left thousands dead and stunted economic development since the 1970s.

The outnumbered police commandos returned fire, but four died and five were wounded in the clash, said police Special Action Force commander Leocadio Santiago.

At least two officers were missing, but it was not clear whether they were abducted by the rebels or had escaped the attack, army brigade commander Col. Aurelio Baladad said.

The rebels fled after seizing at least nine M16 rifles, Santiago said. Government troops joined police in a massive manhunt for the assailants and were searching hospitals for wounded guerrillas, said regional police director Rolando Anonuevo.

The ambush followed an earlier encounter between troops and rebels in neighboring Laguna province that left a 2-year-old girl wounded Monday, said police spokesman Leonardo Espina. The girl was hit by shrapnel and was recovering in a hospital, he said.

The rebels say they are fighting to set up a Marxist state. After reaching their peak strength during Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship that ended in 1986, they failed to come to terms with a new democratic government, blaming it for deep social divisions and abject poverty.

Their ranks have thinned to about 4,000 from more than 25,000 in the mid-1980s because of battle setbacks, surrenders and factionalism.

Peace talks between the rebels and the government brokered by Norway collapsed in 2004 after the rebels accused President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's administration of instigating their inclusion on U.S. and European terrorist blacklists.

Arroyo has ordered the military to defeat the rebels by the end of her term in June, but on Internet postings the rebels have dismissed the deadline as propaganda.