Philippines government, communists resume peace talks

Members of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) hold a demonstration calling for peace negotiations and social economic reforms in Manila. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippine government agreed Sunday (March 12) to reinstate a ceasefire with the communists behind one of the world's longest-running insurgencies, despite President Rodrigo Duterte's earlier threat to step up attacks on the group.

Negotiators for both the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front also agreed to resume collapsed peace talks, a joint statement said.

"The parties shall continue the formal peace talks and reiterate their reaffirmation of all bilateral agreements and statements," made before the peace talks ended abruptly last month, the statement said, after a meeting in Utrecht, Netherlands.

"In the meantime, the parties agreed to reinstate their respective unilateral ceasefires," as soon as both sides inform their armed units, the statement added.

Duterte, a self-described socialist who once boasted of his links to the communist rebels, had reopened stalled peace talks with the 4,000-strong communist rebel movement after taking office in June.

His government released captured rebel leaders and both sides had called separate ceasefires to pave the way for peace talks overseas.

But the volatile Duterte angrily called off peace talks in February after guerrillas killed soldiers in a series of attacks.

Last week, Duterte ordered the military and police to step up their attacks following a communist ambush that left four policemen dead on Wednesday.

"This time, I'm using everything. I have encouraged the police to call in the air assets. Use our new jets. Make use of the rockets and bombs. Flatten the hills with bombs," Duterte said.

The joint statement said an NDF negotiator, arrested after talks collapsed, would be released.

The next round of formal talks will be held in April with another round to be held in June, the two sides said.

The communist insurgency in the poverty-stricken 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.

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