Updated: 03/22/2014 23:33 | By Agence France-Presse

Philippines' most senior communist rebel held

The Philippines' highest-ranking communist guerrilla leader was arrested Saturday in a "victory" for national peace and security, the armed forces chief said.


Philippines' most senior communist rebel held

Philippine soldiers patrolnear the village of Ganta, Datu Piang town, in Maguindanao province on January 29, 2014 - by Mark Navales

Communist Party of the Philippines chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife, the party's secretary general Wilma Tiamzon, were arrested in a joint police and military operation, military chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista said in a statement.

"The arrest... is another victory for the combined efforts between the (military, police) and other stakeholders in pursuit of peace and security," he added, urging their followers to lay down their arms and end the 45-year-old insurgency. 

The Maoist rebellion has claimed 30,000 lives according to government estimates.

Though the communist party's armed wing, the New People's Army, is down to about 4,000 guerrillas from more than 26,000 in the late 1980s, the rebels continue to pose a threat according to the government.

The rebels frequently ambush or raid small military and police units, as well as extorting money from rural businesses, military officials say.

In April last year President Benigno Aquino's government announced that the peace talks being brokered by Norway had collapsed, dampening hopes of a political settlement before the president's six-year term ends in mid-2016.

Manila has since asked Oslo to help the Philippine government convince the rebels to return to the negotiating table.

Bautista did not say how the arrests of the two top communist leaders would impact on the prospects for renewed peace talks.

"They were arrested by virtue of a warrant of arrest for their crimes against humanity that include murder, multiple murders, and (attempted) murder," he added.

Bautista said the couple were arrested on the central island of Cebu, but gave no other details.

The Aquino government is scheduled to sign a peace treaty on March 27 with the largely Catholic country's largest Muslim guerrilla group, ending the country's other long-running rebellion that had claimed 150,000 lives in the south.

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