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Cabinet execs airlifted after clash on De Castro route

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Soldier killed

By Joel Guinto, Ephraim Aguilar, Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 11:58:00 07/15/2008

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines — (UPDATE 2) Vice President Noli de Castro and several Cabinet officials were flown to Placer town in Masbate province, where they are meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Tuesday, after communist rebels clashes with Army troops on the road the officials were supposed to take.

The incident happened after rebels ambushed an Army platoon in Barangay (village) Bagacay, Mobo town, some 90 kilometers from Placer, at around 7 a.m., and set off an improvised landmine around 3 a.m. in Barangay Banao. There were no casualties in the two earlier incidents.

In the latest incident, Colonel Claudio Yucot, commander of the 9th Infantry Battalion, said the troops were conducting a security check Tuesday morning when they encountered a group of New People’s Army guerrillas in Barangay (village) Panicijan, Uson town, some 60 kilometers from Placer.

He said the identity of the slain soldier could not be released yet.

The encounter with the estimated 20 rebels began at around 10 a.m. and lasted between 15 to 20 minutes, Captain Leah Santiago, spokesman of the Southern Luzon Command, said.

Because of the incident, De Castro and the Cabinet officials were airlifted to Placer, where Arroyo was expected to arrive before 1 p.m., Yucot said.

In the first ambush, the Army platoon was on board a passenger van when they were fired upon by alleged New People’s Army guerillas, said Major Christopher Morales, information officer of the 9th Infantry Division. There were no casualties.

“They are trying to get attention because the numbers are dwindling,” Morales said, when asked if the rebel attack was connected to Arroyo’s visit.

But Yucot said they could not tell whether the Uson clash was related to Arroyo’s visit.

“I don’t think this was meant to affect the President’s visit. This could happen anytime since the NPA is just in the area,” he said in mobile phone interview.

He added that the 3 a.m. landmine explosion might have only been meant to scare people and not cause any harm.

The President has given security forces until the end of her term in 2010 to end the nearly four-decade-long guerilla campaign of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), to wrest power.

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Written by joelguinto

TueUTC2008-07-15T06:34:20+00:00UTC07bUTCTue, 15 Jul 2008 06:34:20 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am07

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