A criminal court Thursday convicted two alleged communist guerrillas in the 1989 gun slaying of U.S. Army Col. James "Nick" Rowe and sentenced them to life imprisonment.

Juanito Itaas, 27, and Donato Continente, 29, also were sentenced to 17 years in jail for the wounding of Rowe's driver, Joaquin Benuya, during the attack on April 21, 1989.Rowe, a heavily decorated Vietnam War veteran and former prisoner of war, was being driven to his office at the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group in suburban Quezon City when gunmen riding in a car opened fire at him.

The New People's Army, armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, claimed responsibility for the slaying. The 17,000-member NPA, which has been battling the Manila government for 22 years, accused Rowe, of McAllen, Texas, of being a "direct participant" in counterinsurgency operations.

Itaas was described as an NPA assassin. He was arrested in the southern port city of Davao in August 1989. Continente, a messenger in the Philippine Collegian, the student weekly newspaper of the state-owned University of the Philippines, was arrested two months after the attack.

Judge Tirso Velasco found the two guilty of the slaying on the basis of "extrajudicial confessions" the two had executed before authorities and the testimony of a key witness.

The witness, Meriam Zulueta, testified during the trial she saw Itaas approach Rowe's car after the ambush. Zulueta also identified Continente as one of those who conducted a surveillance on Rowe.

Velasco said although Continente did not participate in the slaying he convicted the messenger as a "co-conspirator."