MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – Four non-combatant soldiers were killed by suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Paquibato District, Davao City on Sunday.
Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza, spokesperson of the Philippine Army's 10th Infantry Division, said the four soldiers were on board motorcycles when they were ambushed by at least 10 NPA rebels in Sitio Cinco, Barangay Mapula at around 5:30 p.m.
Paniza said the four soldiers were unarmed and had just come from the market to buy food when they were ambushed on their way back to camp.
The casualties were identified as Private First Class Ahian Vir Dolero, Pfc Marvin Lauronal, Pfc Noel Sigan and Private Marcelo Himaya.
"The soldiers were in civilian clothes and were unarmed," Paniza told AFP. "This is a treacherous attack by the NPA."
Himaya's body was initially missing, but was eventually recovered today.
The slain soldiers are members of the Army's 60th Infantry Battalion. They are considered peace and development officers tasked to monitor the situation and address the needs of the people in their designated areas.
Paniza said the NPA rebels who conducted the raid belong to the Pulang Bagani Command under Leoncio Pitao alias Kumander Parago.
The military is asking the National Democratic Front to hold accountable those involved in the ambush.
Peace talks compromised
The Philippine military said the attack is hurting efforts to revive stalled talks aimed at ending one of Asia's longest-running rebellions.
The government's chief peace negotiator with the communists, Alexander Padilla, warned the attack would hurt efforts to resume peace talks with the rebels.
"This will impact on the sentiments going forward in the peace process," Padilla told AFP.
Peace talks were due to have resumed in Norway last month. But Padilla said they were called off because of the rebels' long-standing condition that, before negotiations resume, 18 jailed comrades must be released.
He said the ambush appeared to be part of a fresh offensive by the rebels to pressure the government into giving into releasing the jailed communist leaders.
But the government has long refused to release them, and Padilla said it was "unlikely" that talks with the rebels would resume this year.
In what then appeared to be a breakthrough, the government and the communists announced in February last year following talks in Norway that they had set a deadline of June 2012 to sign a final peace deal.
But the two sides were unable to reach agreement on the issue of the jailed communists, leading to a suspension of the talks and the deadline being missed.
The communists have been waging a rebellion since 1969, and more than 30,000 people have died in the conflict, according to the government.
The military estimates the NPA's current strength at about 4,000 fighters nationwide, significantly down from over 26,000 at its peak in the 1980s.
However the NPA retains support particularly in impoverished rural areas and, as shown by Sunday's assault, the rebels remain a threat. – with Agence France-Presse; and Edwin Sevidal, dzMM