MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine security forces arrested the chairman of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines and his wife on Saturday, the military said, dealing the biggest blow in years to the decades-old rebel group.
Benito Tiamzon and his wife, Wilma, also a senior party officer, were arrested in central Cebu province's Aloguinsan township, said military Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.
The arrests came a week before the party's armed wing, the New People's Army, was to mark its 45th anniversary.
The couple face charges of crimes against humanity, including multiple murders, Bautista said in a statement late Saturday. They were taken to a military camp in Cebu.
The statement provided no other details about the arrests. Local media reports said that five other people were arrested along with the Tiamzons.
Bautista said the arrests were "another victory for the combined efforts" of the military and police.
"We call on to the rest of the CPP-NPA members to lay down their arms, abandon the armed struggle and return to the comfort of their families and join us in bringing peace and development to our nation," he said.
Tiamzon's wife, the party's secretary-general, was arrested in the early 1990s but escaped from custody.
Many other senior Communist Party leaders have also been killed or captured over the years, including some whom the rebels said were consultants in peace negotiations who were supposed to be immune from arrest while talks were ongoing.
Talks to end one of Asia's longest-running Marxist insurgencies collapsed in 2011 due to disagreements between the two sides over releasing several jailed rebel leaders.
In a statement from the Dutch city of Utrecht where he lives in exile, chief rebel negotiator Luis Jalandoni condemned the arrests, saying that the Tiamzons carry government-acknowledged safe conduct passes as "consultants" in the peace talks.
He said Tiamzons "have fulfilled and are fulfilling highly significant tasks in the peace negotiations" and demanded their immediate release.
The military estimates that the guerrilla fighters number about 4,000, down from a peak of about 25,000 in the mid-1980s due to battle losses, surrenders and factionalism.
The party and its armed wing have also been included on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.
Earlier this month, the rebels launched a series of attacks in southern Davao del Sur province's Matanao township, killing 10 government troops. At least two guerrillas were killed and nine captured, according to officials.
Hit-and-run tactics, which are typical of guerrilla operations, target both military and police installations as well as business enterprises in the countryside, usually mining companies and plantations.
The military says the attacks on businesses are for extortion.