- The Washington Times - Monday, April 15, 2002

CEBU, Philippines Resurgent Communist rebels have threatened to "inflict severe casualties" on U.S. troops assisting in the fight against Muslim terrorists just as the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific flew into the country for a visit.
The threat, published in the latest issue of "Ang Bayan," an official publication of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), was issued by Armando Liwanag, the pen name of exiled party leader Jose Maria Sison.
"We must be ready to use the social and physical terrain of the Philippines to inflict severe casualties on the invading U.S. forces and to take punitive action against U.S. economic and related interests," said the statement carried in the publication.
It called on the party's armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), to "deliver lethal blows against the U.S. imperialists and the puppet [Philippine] military and police forces, whatever extent that the U.S. intervenes or aggresses against the people."
Security was already tight for the 48-hour visit by Adm. Dennis Blair, who was to fly today to Zamboanga City in the country's south.
From there he is expected to continue to nearby Basilan island, a largely Muslim area where U.S. special forces are training Philippine troops in counterterrorism.
U.S. troops began arriving in the Philippines earlier this year for the joint training exercise near where the Abu Sayyaf, a group of Muslim secessionists turned kidnappers, have held hostage for nearly a year an American missionary couple and a Philippine nurse.
The 3-decade-old Communist movement had seemed a spent force, wracked by internal squabbling and a loss of mass support, until the 1997 Asian economic crisis helped revive it.
While there have been no reports of attacks on the nearly 700 U.S. soldiers here for the training exercises, the rebels killed several American soldiers in the late 1980s when the Philippines hosted two large U.S. military bases.
In late January, a U.S. plane involved in military exercises in the northern Philippines was struck by two bullets when flying at low altitude over a suspected rebel area.
In the last few months, the rebels have burned the buses of two Cebu transport companies that refused to pay so-called "revolutionary taxes" and have again begun the assassinations of policemen they accuse of human rights violations.
"The CPP and NPA are on the rebound, but they're still a long way from being the sort of player politically and militarily that they were in the 1980s," said Gregg Jones, author of "Red Revolution," an academic study of the communist movement in the Philippines.
"They have the capacity to cause trouble in parts of the country, but their military capabilities are limited to relatively small-scale armed attacks and carefully planned ambushes and assassinations not the sort of company-size operations they could mount with great skill and frequency during the mid- and late-1980s," he added.
Brig. Gen. Generoso Senga, a spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said Mr. Sison's order is hardly unexpected.
"If our capability is enhanced [through joint exercises] that's a threat to him," the general said.
The military estimates NPA strength at less than 12,000 fighters, nearly double its number from a few years ago but significantly under its peak of more than 25,000 armed men and women in the mid-1980s.
"This is a headache the government doesn't need," said a Western envoy who requested anonymity.
"The Philippine military already has its hands full with the Abu Sayyaf. But it's a headache, not a major threat."

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