Peace Corps Volunteers Begin Leaving Philippines; Rebels Vow More Attacks
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ American Peace Corps volunteers began leaving the country today, a day after soldiers wearing masks and civilian clothes fired on mourners carrying the coffin of a slain Communist rebel.
The attack illustrated the pattern of violence that prompted the decision to suspend Peace Corps operations and led the U.S. Embassy to warn Americans to take extra safety precautions.
The rebels vowed to avenge the attack at the funeral, in which two people were killed when officials say rebel suspects resisted arrest.
″The revolutionary justice the people demand will not go unheeded,″ said a statement today from the Manila branch of the rebel New People’s Army.
U.S. officials said the first of the Peace Corps volunteers left the Philippines for Honolulu today and the rest were departing on commercial flights over the next few days.
The 261 volunteers were ordered to leave because intelligence reports indicated the New People’s Army planned to kill or kidnap them.
U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Platt said the United States planned to return volunteers as soon as possible ″to continue their efforts in development, in education programs side-by-side with their Filipino colleagues and friends.″
U.S. officials said the Peace Corps office in Manila would remain open as a sign that the withdrawal was temporary. Office Director Jim Lehman said there was no timetable for resuming operations.
U.S. officials declined to elaborate on the alleged threat to Peace Corps members. Communist rebels are believed to have killed eight Americans since April 1989 but had made no public threat against the Peace Corps.
Police arrested 21 people after Thursday’s funeral attack and today charged them with inciting sedition. Three of them, identified as rebels, would face additional charges, police said.
Police Lt. Col. George Alino said the shooting erupted when mourners tried to throw grenades at police. But news photographers and other witnesses said they saw no grenades.
The Philippine Constabulary today appointed a board of officers to investigate the incident. Brig. Gen. Marino Filart, chief of the Capital Command, said the authorities stood by their actions.
Filart said mourners were ″openly displaying their flag and openly displaying their revolutionary intent which is against the law.″
The funeral was for Benjamin Tabuena, 42, a former member of a rebel assassination squad killed by police last week.
Tabuena was a member of the Alex Boncayao Brigade, the Manila wing of the New People’s Army. The brigade is believed to have killed scores of police and soldiers in the capital this year.
International and local human rights groups have frequently accused police and soldiers of violating civil rights in their counter-insurgency campaign, despite President Corazon Aquino’s oft-stated pledge to respect individual liberties.