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Maoist rebels attack Philippine biofuel plantation

MANILA, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Maoist-led guerrillas raided a state-owned plantation used for biofuel production in the central Philippines, the first attack on an alternative energy investment, an army official said on Thursday.

The rebels left leaflets denouncing the operations of a facility producing biofuels from cassava and jatropha, a drought-resistant plant, which competes for crops with food production in the mainly agricultural Southeast Asian nation.

Pic: Plantation

Communist New People's Army (NPA) rebels stormed a jatropha plantation on Negros island on Tuesday, burning equipment and stopping workers from hauling lumber, Colonel Cesar Yano, a brigade commander on Negros, told reporters.

"The workers were not harmed," Yano said.

The rebels oppose the use of food for energy purposes, targeting the 2-billion peso ($42 million) ethanol project because it would plant jatropha trees instead of sugarcane and rice, the traditional staple, Yano said.

Jatropha is considered to be one of the most promising sources of biofuels.

The 10-hectare jatropha plantation in Tamlang valley also sits on what was a rebel stronghold before troops drove the NPA guerrillas deeper into the mountains.

The biofuel plantation is a joint venture between the government and Tamlang Valley Agri Development Corp, a company formed by a local alcohol firm and a political clan related to the finance secretary.

The government has a 35 percent stake in the plantation. There was no immediate reaction from the owners.

The Philippines has been promoting the cultivation of crops suited for biofuels to lessen its dependence on costly imported crude oil. The country imports nearly all of its crude oil needs.

The rebels have stepped up attacks on Negros after an army battalion was removed from the island a month ago and was sent to reinforce troops fighting Muslim rebels on the southern island of Mindanao, officials said.

Manila has been battling Maoist-led guerrillas active mostly in the main island of Luzon and in the central Philippines for nearly 40 years in a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people and stunted investment in the resource-rich country.

The rebels target mines, plantations, logging and telephone companies to scare foreign investors and raise funds. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Paul Tait)

Source: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/MAN187596.htm