Philippine communist rebels vowed on Monday to step up attacks on mining firms and troops guarding them in the northern Kalinga mountains, raising a new threat to a sector that has been beset with environmental woes.
The Maoist-led New People's Army (NPA), fighting one of the world's oldest communist insurgencies, has attacked three mining companies since last month and has urged tribal communities to defend their ancestral land.
The rebels burnt the facilities and some equipment at an Australian-controlled copper and gold mining company in the north and raided two local firms, including Heritage Resources Development Corp., on the southern island of Mindanao.
With the Philippines having up to $1 trillion (533 billion pounds) in estimated mineral wealth, the government is trying to revive mining to bring in foreign investment, cut debt and reduce poverty.
But many foreign firms have been put off by political turmoil, graft, communist and Muslim insurgencies, and opposition from indigenous groups and influential Catholic bishops.
"The unhampered mining activities in Kalinga will destroy the environment and deprive the indigenous people of their resources through deception," Daniel Gibon, the NPA spokesman in the northern Cordillera region, said in a statement.
On Friday, an independent fact-finding commission, which looked at two cyanide spills in October at the zinc and copper mine of Lafayette Mining Ltd., called for a review of the country's mining law which allowing 100 percent foreign control.
The committee also recommended the Australian firm's mine on Rapu-Rapu island, 350 km (220 miles) southeast of Manila, be shut down.
GOVERNMENT STANDS PAT ON MINING
On Monday, the Australian embassy in Manila warned a blanket ban on mining on Rapu-Rapu island and other similar operations would deprive the country of jobs, economic growth and community development, huge tax revenues and foreign investor confidence.
Australia asked Manila to allow Lafayette -- which has stopped mine operations since October -- to test its mine as soon as possible, as the test would show whether or not the firm was ready to meet environmental standards and safeguards. The government has rejected a ban on mining, adding it would seek a balance between developing mining resources and environmental protection.
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said on Saturday the government was "for the full implementation of the Mining Act but always under strict implementation of environmental safeguards."
Among the targets in Kalinga that the NPA vowed to hit were mines run by Cordillera Exploration Inc., Wolfland Resources Inc. and Makikala Mining Co. Inc, which has projects in three towns.
The Philippines, Washington's closest security partner in Southeast Asia, has labelled the NPA as its top security threat, ahead of Muslim rebels in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country.
Active in 69 of 79 provinces, the communists have been waging a protracted rebellion since the late 1960s that has killed more than 40,000 people and stunted investment and tourism.
Peace talks, brokered by Norway, stalled in 2004 when Manila refused the help persuade the United States and some Western European states to remove the NPA from terrorism blacklists.
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