Friday, August 26, 2016

Philippines and communist rebels sign ceasefire deal

The Philippines government and Maoist-led rebels agreed indefinite ceasefires on Friday as part of an accord to accelerate efforts to end a conflict that has lasted almost five decades and killed at least 40,000 people.

The government expressed hopes that a peace agreement could be reached within a year after the Oslo talks, the first formal meeting for five years. The guerrillas, who reiterated demands for “revolutionary change”, stopped short of setting a deadline.

Both sides, at a signing ceremony in a hotel on the outskirts of Oslo, hailed the ceasefire deal and measures to step up negotiations as a breakthrough after 30 years of fitful peace talks.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende, hosting the ceremony, urged both sides to mirror an agreement between Colombia’s government and Marxist FARC rebels to end Latin America’s longest conflict, dating back more than 50 years.

“I hope this has been an inspiration,” he said after the five-day meeting in Oslo. Norway has been a long-standing facilitator for peace deals in Colombia and the Philippines.

Under the Philippines accord, the rebels indefinitely extended a week-long ceasefire that had been due to expire after the Oslo talks. The government reaffirmed an open-ended ceasefire since Aug. 21 that could have been called off if the guerrillas failed to match it.

“There is a clear plan to accelerate the peace negotiations,” Jose Maria Sison, the exiled founder of the Communist Party who lives in the Netherlands, told Reuters.

He called the Philippines “semi-colonial” and “semi-feudal”. The rebels want sweeping reforms to redistribute land to poor farmers and to nationalize industries.

The government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political wing of the Communist Party, agreed to meet again in Oslo from Oct. 8.

“There is still a lot of work to be done ahead. Let us all stay the course together, no matter what,” said Jesus Dureza, Philippines presidential peace adviser.

Both sides urged President Rodrigo Duterte, who helped unblock the negotiations by releasing 16 detainees before the talks, to proclaim an amnesty for all insurgents.

Rebels said that such an amnesty, which would also need approval by Congress, could cover about 530 jailed guerrillas.

Duterte says he wants to end guerrilla wars with both communist and Muslim militants that have been hampering economic development. The 3,000-strong New People’s Army, the armed wing of the communist party, operates mainly in the east and south of the Philippines. By Alister Doyle

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