Philippine rebels step up extortion drive: military

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 24 2012 09:39 AM | Updated as of Jan 24 2012 05:39 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Communist insurgents in the Philippines  have stepped up "extortion-based violence" and attacks on "soft targets" to raise funds amid waning public support, a military statement said.

Such attacks caused damage to property worth 1.2 billion pesos ($27.7 million) last year and raised at least 300 million pesos in extortion funds for the underground New People's Army (NPA), the statement released on Sunday said.

The worst such attack was the simultaneous raid by the rebels on three mining companies in the southern island of Mindanao in October where valuable equipment was destroyed and employees briefly held hostage, said the statement.

The attacks caused much fear in the mining sector that has been trying to attract foreign investment.

"A major cause as to why the NPA is resorting to this extortion-based violence is its continuously declining mass-base support," the statement said.

"This has led them to resort to force and intimidation to coerce 'soft targets' including private firms and individuals."

The rebels are also resorting to fewer direct attacks on the military and were instead going after village defence forces, who are not as well-armed and trained.

About 100 soldiers, policemen and militiamen were killed in NPA attacks last year, down from 184 in the previous year, the statement said.

The NPA's strength has fallen to just over 4,000 last year from about 4,300 in 2010, it added.

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging a Maoist rebellion since 1969.

The government has opened peace talks with the communists but negotiations reached an impasse in November after Manila rejected rebel demands to free 18 jailed guerrillas the NPA said were consultants to its negotiating team.