Philippines peace talks with communists break down

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte (centre) speaking during a visit to troops, in Iligan city, Mindanao island, southern Philippines, on May 26, 2017.
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte (centre) speaking during a visit to troops, in Iligan city, Mindanao island, southern Philippines, on May 26, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

MANILA (AFP) - Peace talks between the Philippine government and communist insurgents broke down on Saturday (May 27) in a row over the rebels' ordering their fighters to step up attacks.

The two sides had just opened formal talks in the Netherlands when chief government negotiator Jesus Dureza objected to the communists' telling guerillas to intensify attacks in response to President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of martial law in parts of the country.

"The government panel is now left without any other recourse but to announce... that it will not proceed to participate in the fifth round of peace negotiations," he said.

He added that talks would not resume until there were indications of an "environment conducive to achieving just and sustainable peace".

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Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law over the southern third of the country on Tuesday in order to quell fighting with pro-Islamic State militants in a southern city.

Communists insurgents, who are active in wide areas of the archipelago, including the south, responded to his declaration by ordering their guerrillas to "carry out more tactical offensives" against state forces.

Senior rebel negotiator Luis Jalandoni said that despite the government's ultimatum, the guerrillas' attacks would continue.

Government negotiator Silvestre Bello said the rebel panel had originally asked for a 10-minute recess to discuss the government's threat but refused to return to the table afterwards.

The communist insurgency in the poverty-stricken Asian country began in 1968 and is one of the longest running in the world. It has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, according to the military.

Peace talks have been conducted on and off for 30 years, seeing a revival after Duterte, a self-declared socialist was elected president last year.

However the fiery Duterte has also taken strong positions against the rebels, imposing conditions including that the guerrillas stop extortion and arson activities.

Duterte angrily called off the peace talks in February after the collapse of unilateral ceasefires that saw guerrillas killing several soldiers and police in a series of attacks.

About 4,000 New People's Army guerrillas continue to attack isolated military and police outposts and extort money from businesses to finance their armed campaign, the military said.