A leader of a Philippine communist breakaway group has been killed, in what may be rivalry among former comrades. The shooting is the latest in a series of assassinations of Communist Party defectors.

Communist guerilla leader Arturo Tabara and his companion were gunned down Sunday outside a shopping mall in suburban Manila.

A spokesman for the communist New People's Army (NPA) told local radio that Mr. Tabara may have been targeted by his former comrades.

Mr. Tabara broke away from the party in 1992 along with other senior leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines, because of ideological differences. The CPP is the umbrella group for the movement, while the NPA is the military wing.

The CPP leadership-in-exile, based in the Netherlands, has traditionally pursued a Maoist-style revolution, while the defectors sought a new strategy.

Mr. Tabara later formed the Revolutionary Proletarian Army and entered into peace talks with the government. Over the last two years, two of Mr. Tabara's fellow defectors have been assassinated.

Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, a former CPP official and now an academic, says the assassinations underline the deep split within the movement.

"The CPP claims these ex-comrades of theirs are renegades and that it is important to show that they have to be punished," Mr. Quimpo said. "It believes that it still would be able to win the public to its side on this matter."

Some analysts say the rivalry has weakened the movement, one of the few remaining communist insurgencies in Asia. The movement reached its peak in the mid-1980's and has been in decline since then, but the Philippine military warned earlier this year that the NPA is regrouping.

Mr. Quimpo says the government's continued failure to deliver economic development has boosted the movement's popularity.

"Given all the corruption, mismanagement and the lack of development and progress, the CPP-NPA is able to take advantage to exploit the situation," Mr. Quimpo said.

Since the September 11th terror attacks in New York and Washington, the United States and other countries have designated the NPA as a terrorist organization. However, the rebels been engaged in sporadic peace negotiations with the government.