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January 17, 2008

Lost Girls of the Jungle

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Teenage girls are grabbing guns and joining the outlawed New People's Army in the Philippines. Here, a rare glimpse at their secret lives.

In the lawless region of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, there are few opportunities for uneducated country girls — unless they pick up an Uzi submachine gun and join the New People's Army. Since 1969, the NPA, the armed wing of the country’s outlawed Communist Party, has waged a war against the government, fighting for a Maoist state; as many as 40,000 Filipinos have died in the process.

The local media — witnesses to the sporadic outbreaks of NPA violence over the years — have dubbed the group’s female fighters "Amazonas," after the legendary women warriors of ancient Greece. Indeed, girls as young as 16 have joined the 7400-strong NPA, which the U.S. and the EU classify as a terrorist group.

"I want all my sisters to join," says a rebel named Giegie, 22. "It's for the best. There’s no life for them outside the NPA." Giegie met her fiancé, Dods, in the army. It took almost a year before Communist officials granted them permission to date. Every aspect of NPA life is regulated, including romance; premarital sex is forbidden.

Giegie's platoon has a motley armory — rifles and grenade launchers mostly captured from police. She and her fellow fighters make their camps in the jungle, where flickering oil lamps give them a ghostly appearance.

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