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REBELS, HEAVY RAINS DISRUPT QUAKE RELIEF

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Communist rebels shot and killed a town vice mayor and fired on a helicopter ferrying relief supplies in a remote northern village devastated by the earthquake that killed at least 1,609 people, the military said Wednesday.

Heavy rains Wednesday flooded low-lying areas, forced school closures and disrupted relief operations for thousands of villagers marooned by landslides since the July 16 temblor that measured 7.7 on the open-ended Richter scale.The military Office of Civil Defense said as of Wednesday the death toll stood at 1,609.

The Department of Social Welfare said more than 1 million Filipinos were made homeless by the temblor.

Appeals were made for relief agencies to send tents and plastic sheets for the refugees huddled outdoors under tropical downpours. The refugees refused to rebuild their homes fearing aftershocks, which had numbered 659 as of Wednesday, officials said.

Maj. Gen. Gerardo Portacio, Philippine Air Force chief, said guerrillas of the communist New People's Army fired Tuesday on an air force helicopter ferrying relief supplies to an isolated village in the mountainous municipality of Kayapa.

Although the helicopter was not hit, Portacio ordered security for workers in Kayapa, a village 120 miles north of Manila and regarded as an NPA stronghold, after guerrillas reportedly seized some relief supplies.

Farther north in Ifugao province in the quake-battered zone, the military said guerrillas attacked an army detachment in the town of Hungduan on Tuesday, sparking a gun battle in which Vice Mayor Julian Huminding was killed.

"This shows the NPAs (New People's Army troops) are not honoring a cease-fire they unilaterally called," said armed forces spokesman Col. Juanito Rimando.

The 19,000-member NPA, which has been waging a 21-year rebellion, announced Saturday it was calling a cease-fire and was joining relief missions.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives approved a resolution late Tuesday urging President Corazon Aquino to suspend payments of the nation's $26 billion foreign debt for 2 1/2 years and use the money to help rebuild ruined areas.