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Philippines wants rebels ‘encamped’ in fixed areas for talks

July 5, 2018
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Communist Party of the Philippines leader Jose Maria Sison, right on screen, is seen from his base in Netherlands via a video conference as he talks to members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines in Manila, Philippines on Thursday, July 5, 2018. The Philippine government will demand that peace talks with communist rebels shift from Europe to the Philippines and the insurgents are encamped in designated areas during the negotiations but the guerrillas waging one of Asia's longest-raging insurgencies quickly reject the conditions. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government will demand that peace talks with communist rebels shift from Europe to the Philippines and the insurgents are encamped in designated areas during the negotiations — conditions the guerrillas waging one of Asia’s longest-raging insurgencies quickly rejected.

Presidential adviser Jesus Dureza said Thursday that New People’s Army guerrillas would also be asked to stop collecting so-called “revolutionary tax” from companies and demanding to be part of a future coalition government.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s conditions were finalized in a meeting with top military and police officials late Wednesday. The guerrillas fear holding talks in Manila would expose them and their exiled leaders to military surveillance and harassment and that the other government conditions amount to a rebel surrender.

“Duterte has killed the peace talks,” Netherlands-based rebel leader Jose Maria Sison told foreign correspondents in Manila via a video linkup, citing a presidential order in November that terminated the talks and has not been rescinded.

The only way for the talks to proceed is for the government to honor past agreements, including those that set a foreign venue for the talks, Sison said.

The rebel group “is ever willing to negotiate even with the monster” if past agreements are honored, said Sison, who lashed out at Duterte’s policies, including his brutal crackdown against illegal drugs.

With the impasse in holding talks, chief rebel negotiator Fidel Agcoili said the rebellion would rage on.

The rebellion has raged in the Philippines’ impoverished countryside since 1969, causing about 40,000 combatant and civilians deaths and undermining security and development. The military estimates 3,900 Marxist insurgents still fight.

“The doors for the resumption of peace talks ... are still open,” Dureza said in a statement.

Dureza said the president still wishes Norway to continue brokering the broader talks, but added that “in the meantime, localized peace arrangements may be pursued by the local government units with the insurgents.”

When he took power in 2016, Duterte resumed peace talks with the rebels but canceled them last year to protest continued guerrilla attacks on troops. He also signed an order declaring the rebel group a terrorist organization, a label the insurgents have opposed. The United States has also designated the rebels as terrorists.

After preliminary talks, both sides agreed to a new temporary cease-fire on June 21, with peace talks to resume a few days later in Norway. But Duterte delayed the resumption indefinitely to allow public consultations, antagonizing the guerrillas.

Last week, Sison, who founded the Communist Party of the Philippines and is based in the Netherlands, said the insurgents can no longer hold peace talks with Duterte’s administration and that it is better to help oust him and negotiate with his successor. Other rebels, however, said Sison’s recommendation would still have to be approved by other guerrilla leaders.

The volatile Philippine president shrugged off Sison’s threat and said he was ready to continue fighting the insurgents. “If they’re not willing to talk to me, that’s fine. I have no problem so we continue with the war. Anyway, we’ve been there for 50 years,” Duterte told reporters.

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