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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Mayor shot dead in northern Philippines
Members of the New People's Army, the military wing of the National Democratic Front
A faction of the NPA said it carried out the attack
Armed men have assassinated a town mayor in the northern Philippines, just minutes after he had led flag-raising ceremonies at the municipal hall.

Four unidentified attackers shot dead Jesus Sebastian, the mayor of Jones town in Isabela province 230 kilometres (140 miles) north of the capital Manila.

A faction of the Communist New People's Army (NPA) is reported to have sent a statement to a radio station, taking responsibility for the attack.

The rebels claimed the mayor allegedly owed "blood deaths" for pushing military operations against the NPA, which has fought an armed campaign against the government for more than 30 years.

They also said farmers had been displaced from their homes by the development of projects to produce coffee and cement.

Panic

Police said four men wearing military uniforms got out of a van in front of the town hall in Jones, walked into the building and quickly disarmed the mayor's bodyguards. Seconds later, two of the men shot him.

Mr Sebastian, 53, died on arrival at a hospital from three gunshot wounds, said Isabela provincial police chief Nelson Nario.

There was panic at the scene of the shooting, with people running for cover.

The attackers, backed by four other gunmen deployed in nearby streets, escaped in their van, taking the bodyguards' weapons with them, police said.

The New People's Army has threatened to attack US troops participating in training exercises aimed at helping local soldiers wipe out the Muslim Abu Sayyaf group.

Six suspected NPA rebels were killed and five others captured in a 35-minute battle with Philippine troops on Saturday.

See also:

10 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines truce with communists
06 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Guide to Philippines conflict
27 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine peace talks open
10 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines peace talks to resume
08 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Arroyo calls for truce with communists
20 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Challenges confronting Arroyo
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