Philippine rebels willing to discuss ceasefire

MANILA • Communist rebels waging one of the world's longest-running insurgencies in the Philippines have said they are willing to discuss a formal ceasefire proposed by the government in upcoming talks in the Netherlands.

The insurgency began in 1968 in the poverty-stricken country and has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, according to the military.

The meeting, starting today, will be the fourth round of talks between the National Democratic Front and Manila.

The talks have gone on and off for 30 years and were restarted by President Rodrigo Duterte after he took office last June.

The government has billed a permanent ceasefire as its primary goal, although a week of negotiations on the outskirts of Rome in January ended without such a deal.

"The (Front) believes it is possible at the soonest time to have a bilateral ceasefire agreement," chief rebel negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said in a statement issued from his exile in the Netherlands late last Friday.

He added that the rebel negotiating team was "willing to be flexible and is open to discussing with its counterpart what kind of bilateral ceasefire agreement is desired by the (government)".

However, chief government negotiator Silvestre Bello said last Friday that he expected the talks to be "very difficult and exacting", with no guarantees for a breakthrough.

The National Democratic Front is made up of several groups, the most prominent of which is the Communist Party of the Philippines, whose guerrilla unit is the 4,000-strong New People's Army.

Today's meeting, originally scheduled to be held in Oslo, will be held in the Dutch town of Noordwijk, close to Utrecht - where rebel negotiator Agcaoili and some of the senior leaders of the insurgency live in exile.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Philippine rebels willing to discuss ceasefire'. Print Edition | Subscribe