MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Philippine troops are ready to launch offensives against communist guerrillas to protect infrastructure, businesses and election candidates targeted for extortion, officials said Monday.
At the end of their self-imposed Christmas cease-fire last week, New People's Army rebels separately attacked a key power plant, a convoy carrying a congressman and a cell phone transmission tower to extort money and guns, military spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero said.
"We're bringing the battle to their areas,'' Lucero told The Associated Press.
Troops were deployed to pursue guerrillas nationwide, including in the coastal town of Calaca in Batangas province, Luzon island, where the rebels attacked a detachment guarding a major power plant Saturday.
Soldiers and militiamen repelled the attack in fierce fighting that killed four soldiers and three insurgents.
Lucero said the rebels had planned to destroy the 600-megawatt power plant, which supplies a vast region, including metropolitan Manila, after its management allegedly refused to pay "revolutionary taxes.''
The rebels denied such a plan, but Lucero said soldiers found drums of gasoline, homemade explosives, two anti-tank rockets and blasting caps in a truck used by the guerrillas.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called the attack a terrorist act, but said the government remains open to reviving long-stalled peace talks with the guerrillas.
Her spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, however, said the guerrillas should be punished for the attacks.
"There should be punitive action in connection with the raids,'' Bunye told radio station DZRH.
"We should show them that we would not allow these acts against the government to pass.''
A day before the attack in Batangas, guerrillas opened fire on a convoy carrying Congressman Joey Solis in Sorsogon province, about 380 kilometers (240 miles) southeast of Manila, wounding his driver and a bodyguard, the military said.
The rebels seized three pistols and three cell phones, but did not harm Solis.
Last week, suspected guerrillas burned apassenger bus and set ablaze a cell phone tower in the central Philippines as part of an extortion campaign, Lucero said.
He said the military offensives are also aimed at preventing rebels from collecting money from election candidates in exchange for permission to campaign in NPA-influenced villages. Presidential elections are scheduled for May 10.
From a few dozen guerrillas in the late 1960s, guerrilla strength peaked in the mid-1980s to more than 25,000 nationwide.
The number dropped as low as around 6,000 thanks to surrenders, battle casualties, and a major split in the local communist movement in the early 1990s.
However, the military says rebel strength has steadily increased to 9,300 men with 7,000 firearms. - AP
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