Filipino rebels free 2 captives, will release 3rd

Communist rebels have freed a policeman and a soldier and will release a third captive in the southern Philippines partly to strengthen peace talks with the government, the rebels said Sunday.

Government and rebel negotiators last week resumed negotiations in Norway which have been stalled for more than six years. Both sides declared a weeklong cease-fire to bolster the negotiations aimed at ending one of Asia's longest-running Marxist insurgencies.

Police officer Jorge Sabatin walked free on Saturday after being wounded and snatched by New People's Army guerrillas in a Feb. 1 attack on a police outpost in Agusan del Sur province's Trento town, police and the rebels said.

The rebels said they freed on Friday an army officer, Mario Veluz, who they snatched at gunpoint on Feb. 6 along a road near Bukidnon province. Another police officer, Jerwel Montecillo Tugade, has been ordered released after being abducted Feb. 7 in Davao Oriental province, the rebels said.

The rebels said in separate statements issued to the media that the three have not been actively engaged in counter-insurgency operations.

A fourth captive, army soldier Bryan Canedo was still being held and questioned after he was seized Feb. 7 in Compostela Valley Province, the rebels said.

Battle setbacks have weakened the Maoist rebels, who reached their peak during dictator Ferdinand Marcos's reign when their fighters numbered about 25,000 in the mid-1980s. The military, however, still regards the rebels, estimated to have 4,398 fighters, as the country's most serious security threat after Muslim rebels and al-Qaida-linked militants in the south.

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

Peace talks stalled in 2004 after the rebels accused then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's government of instigating their inclusion in U.S. and European terrorist blacklists.