Suspected communist rebels stormed the main police station in a southern Philippine city, killing an officer and wounding four others in a daring attack on a government center that was repulsed by outnumbered police officers, officials said Sunday.
Government and rebel negotiators last month resumed long-stalled peace talks brokered by Norway and aimed at resolving one of Asia's longest-running Marxist rebellions by 2012. The rebels, however, have pressed on with attacks and government forces continued offensives without a long-term truce.
About 40 New People's Army guerrillas, disguised as army troops, barged into the compound in Panabo city after a downpour late Saturday then raked the police station at the back of the city hall with gun- and rifle grenade-fire, sparking a 30-minute clash, police investigator Randy Sta. Maria said.
A policeman guarding the compound gate was shot to death. Two policemen and two civilian employees were wounded in the ensuing gunbattle, which damaged the two-story station, where 17 policemen fired back from shattered windows and on the roof, he said.
"I heard bursts of heavy gunfire then somebody yelled, 'we're under attack,'" Sta. Maria told The Associated Press by telephone. He helped defend the station.
The guerrillas fled by foot as small groups of policemen started to arrive. They left behind two vans, which got stuck in a muddy dirt road near the police station, he said.
The rebels have staged attacks in fringe villages of Panabo, considered the country's banana capital due to its vast plantations. It was the first time, however, that they assaulted the main government center in the agricultural city of more than 160,000 people in Davao del Norte province, about 560 miles (900 kilometers) southeast of Manila.
Battle setbacks have weakened the Maoist rebels, who reached their peak in the mid-1980s, when their fighters numbered about 25,000. However, the military still regards the rebels as the country's most serious security threat after Muslim rebels and al-Qaida-linked militants in the south.
Peace talks stalled in 2004 after the rebels accused then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's government of instigating their inclusion in U.S. and European terrorist blacklists.