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Rebel couple's arrest a blow to Philippine talks

MANILA -- Prospects of reviving peace talks with Philippine communist insurgents have faded following the arrest of a married couple who are senior rebel leaders, officials and analysts said Sunday.

The armed forces have hailed the arrest on Saturday of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife, the party's secretary-general Wilma Tiamzon, as a victory.

Military chief General Emmanuel Bautista said Benito Tiamzon heads both the party and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA).

He “directs the armed struggle all over the country, directs the (use of landmines), the killings, and the violence perpetrated by the NPA,” Bautista said.

He told reporters the arrests would leave the 45-year-old rebel movement with a leadership vacuum, adding he hoped more guerrillas would realize the futility of their struggle.

But the detentions also prompted harsh accusations from both sides over the stalled peace process.

The Tiamzons were held in a raid in the central island of Cebu on three warrants for multiple murder and attempted murder, Bautista said.

He said five other people arrested with the couple were also believed to be insurgents since they were found in possession of firearms and explosives.

Luis Jalandoni, chairman of the insurgents' negotiating panel, condemned the “illegal arrest,” saying both Tiamzons were covered by immunity guarantees.

Jalandoni, in a statement on the insurgents' website, called the arrests a “flagrant violation” of an immunity deal signed in 1995 when the latest peace talks began.

It “most seriously prejudices the peace negotiations,” he added.

Philippines President Benigno Aquino had hoped to reach a peace agreement with the communists by the end of his term in 2016, but in April 2013 the government declared that talks had collapsed.

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