MANILA, Philippines – Philippine troops on Thursday killed eight communist rebels, two of them women, in the latest flare-up of violence since talks to end one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies broke down.
Soldiers were deployed to a poor, remote farming village in the eastern province of Sorsogon after residents complained of “prolonged extortion, abuses and threats” by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, armed forces spokesman Major Ramon Zagala said.
“Heavy casualties were inflicted on the NPA, while no casualty or damage was incurred by the government security forces,” Zagala told AFP, adding the clashes went for about 35 minutes.
He said the bodies of eight NPA guerrillas were recovered, including two women, along with their rifles, grenade launchers and improvised bombs.
“The women were combatants for sure. They were found with high-powered rifles, with bandoliers packed with bullets around their bodies. They traded fire alongside the men,” he said.
The NPA has been fighting successive governments for 44 years in a rebellion that has claimed at least 30,000 lives.
The military estimates the rebels have about 4,000 fighters, down from a peak of roughly 26,000 in the 1980s.
Zagala said that, while there were no specific figures, it was common for government troops to encounter female communist fighters.
He said the NPA recruited women as well as men from poor villages or universities, and they were trained to fight together.
The military refers to the armed female rebels as “amazonas”, from the Greek mythology of women fighters.
President Benigno Aquino had been aiming to end the rebellion before his six-year term expires in 2016, but the government said in April that peace talks had collapsed.
The government blamed repeated demands by the NPA for comrades to be released from jail, as well as frequent attacks, for the failure of the talks.
Communist rebels have launched more assaults since the government said the peace process had failed, killing at least 34 civilians, police officers and soldiers, according to an AFP tally based on reports from authorities.
Local brigade commander Colonel Jose Kakilala said his troops involved in Thursday’s fighting had responded to a distress call from the villagers.
“The prolonged extortion, abuses and threats of the NPA prompted the villagers to report them…and our soldiers responded to the call,” Kakilala said in a statement.