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ARKIB : 28/09/2004

Gunmen kill former Philippine rebel leader

MANILA Sept 27 - Suspected communist rebels shot dead the leader of a breakaway guerrilla group that entered into a peace agreement with the Philippine government, police said on Monday.

Senior Superintendent Procopio Lipana said gunmen shot Arturo Tabara on Sunday night in a parking lot near a Manila shopping mall.

``He died instantly from two bullet wounds,'' Lipana told reporters.

The boyfriend of Tabara's daughter had been with him at the time and was also killed, he added.

Tabara, in his mid-50s, was chairman of the Workers' Revolutionary Party of the Philippines, a breakaway faction of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The CPP is listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States, Australia, and most governments in western Europe.

Its armed wing, the New People's Army, is a waging a 35-year-old insurgency against the government fuelled by widespread rural poverty and anger at official corruption.

Tabara's group entered into a peace agreement with the government in December 1999, since when his followers have worked with soldiers to hunt down NPA guerrillas in Negros island in the central Philippines.

The peace deal was brokered by businessman Eduardo Cojuangco, chairman of San Miguel Corp., Southeast Asia's largest food and drink group. Cojuangco owns large tracts of farmland on the island.

Police said they suspected the NPA was behind Tabara's killing because leaders of the communist movement had admitted assassinating two other former comrades who defected to government ranks in the mid-1990s.

``These cases may be the result of internal conflicts within the revolutionary left but nevertheless are a travesty of justice,'' said Ignacio Bunye, a spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Gregorio Rosal, a spokesman for the Maoist guerrillas, said he could not confirm nor deny whether his group was behind the murder of Tabara, whom he described as a traitor.

``It's really possible the NPA was behind it,'' he told a local radio station, saying Tabara ``committed grave criminal offences against the Filipino people and the revolutionary movement.''

Asia's oldest communist rebellion has claimed over 40,000 lives, deterred foreign investment and stunted rural development in the Philippines.

The government has been engaged in on-off peace negotiations with the communists' political wing led by Jose Maria Sison, a political science professor who lives in exile in the Netherlands, since the late 1980s.

But formal talks were suspended last month after Washington renewed its listing of the rebel group as terrorists. - Reuters

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