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Philippines rejects demand to release communist rebel

MANILA -- The Philippines on Sunday rejected a demand by communist rebels to free a senior guerilla leader as a goodwill gesture ahead of formal peace negotiations in Norway next month.

Presidential chief peace adviser Teresita Deles said New People's Army (NPA) leader Tirso Alcantara was not on the list of guerrillas covered by an agreement granting immunity from arrest for rebel negotiators.

“As what we have said in the beginning, it's still our position — he's not in the list that they gave us. He's not carrying documents,” to identify him as such, Deles said in a statement.

Alcantara, the NPA's operational commander for rebel fronts in several provinces on the main island of Luzon, was wounded and captured by state forces early this month.

He is the highest ranking NPA leader arrested in recent years, and was wanted for a string of charges including murder, kidnapping and robbery.

The NPA's political National Democratic Front however insisted he was a member of its peace negotiating panel and therefore was immune from arrest.

They have called for his release before both sides sit down for formal peace negotiations from Feb. 15 to 21 in Oslo, Norway in a bid to end one of Asia's longest running rebellions.

Deles noted that the communists' demand to free Alcantara remained a contentious issue, which was expected to be brought up by the rebels during “sidetable discussions.”

“The (government peace) panel wants this issue discussed. There's a side mechanism for that so they can do their main work that is to look at the substantive agenda,” of the talks, Deles said.

The 4,700 NPA is the armed unit of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NDF.The insurgency has left tens of thousands dead since it began in 1969.

Communist rebel leaders were not immediately available for comment Sunday.

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