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Philippines Braces For Possible Attacks After Arrest of Communist Party Leader in Holland

Philippine security forces are on high alert for possible attacks by communist rebels after Dutch authorities arrested their exiled leader in the city of Utrecht. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Dutch authorities say they arrested Jose Maria Sison Tuesday for ordering the murder of two former communist comrades from his exile home in the Netherlands.

In Manila, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo welcomed the arrest as a "giant leap toward peace" and a victory for justice.

But the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines that Sison heads, denounced the arrest and called the charges "fabrications."

The party threatened to withdraw entirely from peace talks with the government, which have already been stalled since 2004.

Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the leftist group Bayan (Nation), says the arrest was another attempt by the Arroyo government to silence its critics.

"We believe that this incident is happening with the knowledge and prodding of the Arroyo government… thereby justifying this all-out war policy against the critics of the government," said Reyes.

The Philippine police and the military were placed on high alert Wednesday to thwart any retaliatory attacks by the rebels or their sympathizers.

Sison has led the Philippine communist party, or CPP, from the Netherlands since 1987. His arrest casts further doubt on the future of the nearly 40-year-long communist insurgency, which some experts say has not regained strength after suffering a leadership split in the 1990s.

Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, associate professor of political science at Tsukuba University in Japan, is a former member of the CPP.

"Even without him [Sison], the communist party might still be able to continue with its operations, but the effect on the internal dynamics of the CPP is still very difficult to gauge," he said.

There is no extradition treaty between the Netherlands and the Philippines, and Sison was arrested on Dutch charges.

He is accused of ordering the killings of former communist commanders Romulo Kintanar in 2003, and Arturo Tabara in 2004. Both were gunned down in the Philippines after withdrawing support from Sison.

The United States and the European Union have designated the CPP and its military wing, the New People's Army, as a terrorist organization.