Philippines, communist rebels agree on interim ceasefire

Representatives gathered for ceasefire talks in the Dutch town of Noordwijk aan Zee on April 2, 2017.
Representatives gathered for ceasefire talks in the Dutch town of Noordwijk aan Zee on April 2, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

NOORDWIJK AAN ZEE, Netherlands (AFP) - The Philippine government and communist rebels have agreed in principle on an interim ceasefire to boost ongoing peace talks aimed at ending one of the world's longest insurgencies, the two sides said on Thursday (April 6).

The temporary truce would take effect after the two sides iron out the guidelines and ground rules, they said in a joint statement without giving a timetable.

The two parties "have agreed to formulate an interim joint ceasefire agreement that will boost trust and confidence in the... peace negotiations," rebel leader Jose Maria Sison told a joint news conference Thursday in the western Dutch town of Noordwijk aan Zee.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's peace adviser Jesus Dureza cautioned there was "still a lot of work that will have to be done by both sides. We don't have a ceasefire in place right now, to make it very clear." But he earlier hailed the outcome of four days of talks in The Netherlands "as another step closer to our dream".

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.

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

Peace talks have been conducted on and off for 30 years, seeing a revival after the election of Duterte last year.

Duterte, a self-described socialist, has made a peace deal with the rebels a top priority. The negotiators agreed that the next round would be held between May 27 and June 1, although a venue has yet to be agreed upon.

The government has billed a permanent ceasefire as its primary goal, with Duterte imposing conditions including that the rebels stop extortion and arson activities.

The interim agreement followed what negotiators described as a "difficult" round of discussions, with the communists insisting they exercised "maximum flexibility" in response to the president's conditions.

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.

'GENUINE LAND REFORM'

"The ceasefire agreement is necessary and of high importance," said rebel leader Sison.

"But far more important and decisive in realising a just and lasting peace is the adoption and implementation of basic social, economic and political reforms that are needed and demanded by the people," he added.

The interim ceasefire agreement directs negotiators to craft guidelines regarding "the presence of armed groups in local communities, creation of buffer zones, prohibited, hostile and provocative acts including the collection of revolutionary taxes".

Norwegian special envoy to the peace process Elisabeth Slattum said that on the issue "of the social and economic reforms, the parties have firmed up the agreement on free distribution of land as the basic principle of genuine land reform."

The guerillas are represented at the talks by Dutch-based exiled leaders including Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The two sides have also announced they would release prisoners as another confidence-building measure.

The communists said they would soon free four kidnapped security forces, while the government said it would release 23 detained rebels who were sick and elderly.