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Robbers hijacked Philippines bus

02 December 2010, 11:11

Manila - Robbers seized a passenger bus and engaged security forces in a highway chase and gunbattle that killed four civilians in the Philippines, police said on Thursday.

The army initially blamed New People's Army rebels waging a 41-year rural-based insurgency for the shootout on Wednesday east of the capital, Manila, as rebel and government representatives met in informal talks in Hong Kong.

An investigation later showed three robbers commandeered the bus as a getaway vehicle, rammed through police and army roadblocks and opened fire on security forces chasing them, said Quezon provincial police chief Eric Velasquez.

He said the bus conductor, one male, and two female passengers were killed after the driver slammed the bus into a tree.

Velasquez said two suspects were in custody and one escaped.

"It was a running gunbattle. Shots were fired. When they stopped, they were still firing. One suspect escaped," Valesquez said.

He said the bus had only six passengers when the three men boarded, announced they were members of the communist rebel New People's Army, and put a gun to the driver's head. It was not immediately clear why they introduced themselves as rebels, possibly to cover their tracks and confuse authorities.

The four dead were civilians "caught in the crossfire", he said, adding autopsy results were pending.

Regional military spokesperson army Colonel Generoso Bolina said on Thursday he was relying on initial information that the attackers were communist rebels, who have a strong presence in the province.

The rebels are considered a terrorist organisation by the US and the European Union. They want the Philippine government to do more to remove them from the terrorist lists, which are blocking their access to foreign funding.

President Benigno Aquino III has formed a negotiating team to resume talks with the guerrillas, but sporadic fighting has continued. Peace talks brokered by Norway have been suspended since 2004.

- AP


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