Philippines' Duterte declares communist ceasefire

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has announced a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels, and urged them to reciprocate. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced Monday (July 25) a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels who are waging one of Asia's longest insurgencies, and urged them to reciprocate.

Duterte made the announcement in his first "State of the Nation Address" to Congress as he laid the groundwork for peace talks with the communists that are due to begin in Norway next month.

"To stop violence on the ground (and) restore peace, I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire," Duterte told lawmakers, as he called on the rebels to do the same.

The communist rebellion has killed about 30,000 people since the 1960s.

The communists' armed wing, the New People's Army, is believed to have fewer than 4,000 gunmen today, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, according to the military.

But it retains support among the deeply poor in rural areas, and its troops regularly kill security forces while extorting money from local businesses.

Dutere's predecessor, Benigno Aquino, revived negotiations soon after taking office in 2010 but shelved them in 2013, accusing the rebels of being insincere about finding a political settlement.

The talks collapsed after his government rejected the rebels' demand to release scores of their jailed comrades, whom they described as "political prisoners".

Duterte, who took office on June 30 and counts exiled communist rebel leader Jose Maria Sison as a friend, had previously offered to release some political prisoners.

His aides have already held preliminary talks with Sison and other senior communist leaders, during which they agreed to resume the peace negotiations next month.

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