Government Negotiator Optimistic About Cease-Fire Deal
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ A government negotiator said Monday he was optimistic the government and communist rebels could reach a cease-fire agreement by the end of the week.
″We have not been this optimistic,″ the negotiator, Ramon Mitra, said during a breakfast with journalists and diplomats. ″I think they (the rebels) want this as much as we do.″
President Corazon Aquino has said she would only discuss how to end the 17- year-old communist insurgency if the rebels agreed to a cease-fire while the talks are going on.
The rebels, represented by the communist-led National Democratic Front, rejected her proposal for an immediate 30-day cease-fire earlier this month.
On Saturday, however, the rebels proposed a 30-day cease-fire which would be monitored by committees consisting of rebels and government representatives.
The two sides were scheduled to meet Monday or Tuesday to discuss the cease-fire proposals.
″We might have an agreement before the end of the week,″ Mitra said. ″I am very optimistic that we will come up with an agreement when we meet again.″
″The differences have narrowed down to a few simple details, the composition of the monitoring groups and its powers,″ he said.
At one point during his speech, he waved what he called a ″mutually worked-out″ draft of a cease-fire agreement in the air. Presidential spokesman Teodoro Benigno said later Monday that he did not think the draft had been signed.
Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile who has expressed doubt about the chances of a negotiated settlement, told soldiers during a flag-raising ceremony Monday that they should be prepared in case the government’s efforts fail.
″If everything will be settled peacefully, we will thank God,″ Enrile told members of the Philippine Navy. ″But if we cannot avoid it, then we will do what the government should do to safeguard our freedom and democracy.″
Government officials said last week that there was no split between Mrs. Aquino and the military on how to deal with the rebels.
At a news conference Monday, Maj. Gen. Salvador Sison, vice chief of the armed forces, called on the National Democratic Front to order the rebels to stop ambushing soldiers.
The outlawed Communist Party and its military wing, the New People’s Army, are part of the NDF. The New People’s Army has an estimated 16,000 fighters.
Both the military and the rebels have accused each other of staging attacks despite the peace efforts that began in August.
Before the rebels made their cease-fire proposal, rebels repeatedly attacked soldiers in the countryside.
The Philippine News Agency said Monday that patrolling soldiers killed three rebels Sunday in Quezon province, 30 miles east of Manila.