Japan, Australia worry over Filipino mine attacks

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Australian and Japanese officials expressed concern Wednesday over an attack by more than 200 communist guerrillas on three mining compounds that destroyed trucks, equipment, barges and offices in the southern Philippines.

The New People's Army rebels disarmed guards, briefly held company staff, and torched company offices and heavy equipment during the attacks Monday on three mines run by Nickel Asia Corp. and Platinum Group Metals Corp. in remote Claver town in Surigao del Norte province.

One of the companies, Taganito Mining Corp., was forced to temporarily shut down operations after the attack. The company is operated by Nickel Asia, the Philippines' biggest nickel producer, which is partly owned by Japan's Sumitomo Corp.

Japanese Ambassador Toshinao Urabe said about 60 Japanese workers building a smelting plant at Taganito were not harmed in the attack, which he said could hurt the Philippines' image.

"It's awful, I mean it's not only the damage to the equipment but the damage to the reputation of the Philippines that I'm worried (about)," Urabe said.

Australian Ambassador Rod Smith, whose country also has mining interests in the country, expressed concern as well. Both diplomats welcomed government assurances that security for mining operations in remote areas would be improved.

President Benigno Aquino III said he was disappointed with security officials in Surigao, about 430 miles (700 kilometers) southeast of Manila, where top police officials have been relieved from their posts following the attacks.

Aquino suggested the risk of a major rebel attack was apparent but authorities failed to do anything. Additional forces have been deployed to improve security in the area, he said.

"The potential for a risk for a disaster was really evident," Aquino told reporters. "I was not happy with their performance in this particular incident."

The New People's Army, which is listed by Washington as a terrorist group, has staged smaller attacks on mining companies in the south in the past, accusing them of exploiting the country's resources and workers. The military has said rebel attacks on mining companies were part of extortion attempts.

Rebel spokesman Jorge Madlos threatened more attacks if mining companies ignore their concerns. The Maoist guerrillas seized seven shotguns and several pistols but did not harm anyone during the assaults, he said.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the attacks were isolated but undermined peace talks the government was holding with the guerrillas. The government will pursue the talks despite the attacks, he said.

The Marxist rebels, estimated to number more than 4,000, have pressed on with attacks despite the resumption of the talks earlier this year aimed at settling one of Asia's longest-running communist insurgencies.

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