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Clash kills Philippine soldier, six rebels ahead of talks

Six communist guerrillas and a soldier were killed in a clash Sunday, officials said, as the Philippine government prepared to restart peace talks to end one of the world’s longest-running Maoist insurgencies. Government troops exchanged fire with New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas near the town of Balayan, about 68 kilometres (42 miles) south of the capital Manila, a Philippine Army statement said. The clash came three weeks after the government and the rebels agreed to resume negotiations aimed at ending the near 55-year insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives. Six NPA members and a soldier were killed in the fighting and another three soldiers were wounded, the government said. “The Armed Forces of the Philippines will pursue the fight against all terrorist groups that put our country in harm’s way,” Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said in a statement, in which he also sent his condolences to the dead soldier’s family. The rebellion grew out of the global communist movement and found fertile soil for recruitment among the Philippines’ rural poor. The NPA boasted about 26,000 fighters at its peak in the 1980s, a number the military says has now dwindled to less than 2,000. Successive Philippine administrations have held peace talks with the communists through their Netherlands-based political arm, the National Democratic Front. The last peace talks were held during the administration of former president Rodrigo Duterte, who cut off the negotiations in 2017 and declared the group a terrorist organisation. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos’ aides and rebel officials expect the negotiations to restart next year.

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