Rebels Defy Ban on Brandishing Arms
SAN JUAN, Philippines (AP) _ Communist rebels on Thursday defied a ban on display of weapons and brandished M-16s and AK-47s in a march with supporters. The chief of staff called the brazenness a provocation that could endanger a day-old truce.
About 50 New People’s Army guerrillas carrying U.S. and Soviet assault rifles joined a march in this village on the Bataan peninsula 25 miles west of Manila. The march was called in support of the 60-day cease-fire that took effect Wednesday.
Many of San Juan’s residents showered the insurgents with confetti and chanted ″Long Live the NPA 3/8″
Government officials in Manila said Thursday there were no reports of clashes between rebel and military forces since the truce began.
The rebels marched alongside two officials of the Communist-dominated National Democratic Front, Satur Ocampo and his wife Carolina Malay-Ocampo, to a makeshift bamboo stage.
The two led a crowd of about 2,000 in singing the ″Internationale,″ the communist anthem.
Rebel officials, immune from arrest for political activities under terms of the cease-fire, invited foreign and Filipino reporters from Manila to watch the rally.
″This is an opportunity to show the government and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) that the NPA is loved by the people,″ Ocampo told the crowd.
The demonstration was expected to intensify the dispute between the government and the National Democratic Front over the issue of guerrilla arms- bearing.
Maj. Joseph Cabato, military spokesman at nearby Camp Olivas, said troops were sent to San Juan to disarm the insurgents but arrived after the rebels had left. He termed the incident a violation of the cease-fire agreement.
In Manila, Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos denounced the display as a provocation and accused the rebels of frightening civilians. But he stopped short of labeling the incident a cease-fire violation.
″This is precisely the kind of act, this provocative incident, that would create tension and cause or lead to a more violent situation which we want to avoid,″ he said in a television interview.
Where and under what conditions rebels may carry weapons remains the principal unresolved issue in the truce. The two sides announced Tuesday they had agreed that armed rebels would steer clear of ″population centers.″
But they have been unable to define what constitutes a ″population center.″
Government negotiator Teofisto Guingona said the national truce monitoring committee would meet Saturday to study the San Juan rally, determine if it violated the agreement and ″resolve further kinks″ in the accord.
″This is not really a gray area anymore, where firearms in populated areas are carried,″ Ramos said. ″It is taboo.″
Defense Minister Rafael Ileto repeated warnings Thursday that rebels who ″flagrantly″ display weapons in populated areas are subject to arrest ″like ordinary criminals.″
Antonio Zumel, a rebel representative in the truce negotiations, told the crowd in San Juan: ″Hold on to your guns, hold on to your AK-47s, hold on to your revolvers ... because we need to defend ourselves and our countrymen.″
″I’ll carry my gun wherever I go,″ Ka (Comrade) Anti, a guerrilla, said when asked why she was carrying an M-16.
Some guerrillas sat on the road and gave interviews to reporters as children ran their fingers along the butts of their rifles.
A former rebel turned farmer said 90 percent of the villagers in San Juan support the New People’s Army. He said an underground farmers’ group formed a cooperative to help guerrillas who need food and money.
The New People’s Army claims to operate in more than 60 of the country’s 73 provinces.
In Manila, members of the cease-fire monitoring committee announced they would look into a clash Wednesday between leftist and anti-Communists groups in Davao City to determine if it constituted a truce violation.
One leftist was killed and five others were injured after members of the leftist Bayan, or ″Nation,″ movement clashed with a local anti-Communist group supported by the military.
The national committee said it would set up its first regional counterpart in the Davao City area to prevent further clashes there.
The cease-fire agreement calls for committees to be established in all 12 of the country’s military regions to monitor compliance locally. But so far none has been fully constituted.