Philippine rebels vow to build 25,000-strong force

DAVAO, Philippines (AP) - Philippine communist rebels vowed Thursday to intensify attacks against government troops and build a 25,000-strong guerrilla force, but the military mocked the target as unrealistic.

New People's Army guerrillas marked the 45th founding anniversary of their underground party with a clandestine gathering at a mountain lair, where they invited journalists in southeastern Agusan del Sur province.

A communist rebel statement urged the Maoist guerrillas to "wipe out enemy units and seize their weapons" and "increase the number of our Red fighters to 25,000."

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, however, said the rebels, whose armed guerrilla strength has dwindled to 4,000, have been on a decline and would not achieve such a target due to problems such as the loss of community support and infighting.

"They're dreaming," Zagala said. "The reality is they have been on a decline due to the loss of their mass bases, surrenders and other problems."

The communist rebellion in the Philippines began in the late 1960s with a ragtag group armed with a few rifles. The movement peaked during the repressive years under dictator Ferdinand Marcos with several thousand full-time guerrillas.

Though it remains one of the world's longest-running Marxist insurgencies, the rebel movement has grown considerably weaker in recent years due to battle setbacks, surrenders and factionalism. They remain a national security concern.

Talks to end the rebellion have stalled since 2011 due to disagreements between the government and guerrillas over the release of several jailed rebel leaders.