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Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald dela Rosa announced the re-launch of police anti-narcotics operations during a news conference inside the PNP headquarters in Quezon city, metro Manila, Philippines March 6, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

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MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine police killed four suspected drug dealers in three separate incidents on Tuesday, a provincial police commander said, just hours after a relaunch of anti-drugs operations that the national police chief said he hoped would be "less bloody".

The incidents were the first reported deaths of drug suspects since Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa announced the restart of operations he hoped would be less bloody "or even bloodless".

About 8,000 people had been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte declared war on drugs upon taking office on June 30, more than 2,555 in what the PNP says were shootouts during raids and sting operations.

The PNP insists it had no involvement in the rest of the killings and deny activists' allegations that many of the deaths, most unsolved and in mysterious circumstances, were assassinations of drug suspects with police complicity.

Three suspected drug peddlers were shot dead in the early hours of Tuesday when they resisted arrest after selling packets of "shabu" methamphetamine to undercover officers in two towns in Bulacan, north of Manila, according to Senior Superintendent Romeo Caramat.

A fourth man was killed when he confronted police manning a checkpoint, he said, adding three handguns and drugs were recovered.

The PNP's reinstatement came just over a month after a furious Duterte pulled police back from his crackdown in the wake of the killing by rogue drugs squad police of a South Korean businessman.

Dela Rosa said "clean, dedicated and patriotic" officers would form the new drug enforcement unit under his command.

The PNP has defended its role in the drugs war, amid growing criticism from human rights groups that they have operated with impunity and systematically abused their power.

The crackdown is an issue of concern among Western governments and the United Nations.

The PNP points to some 40,000 people it has arrested in drug operations and more than a million drug users and peddlers that have surrendered and volunteered to undergo drug rehabilitation.

Duterte recalled the police for the campaign because the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) lacked manpower to stem what the PNP says are signs of drugs returning to the streets.

(The story has been refiled to insert country in headline)

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Michael Perry)

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