By Roy Ramos
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (AA) - Communist rebels in the Philippines have expressed commitment to drawing up a fresh truce with the government after both sides called off unilateral cease-fires declared last year.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said in a statement Sunday that it is open to negotiations for a bilateral cease-fire if President Rodrigo Duterte decides to send a government panel to scheduled peace talks in the Netherlands later this week.
It underlined that as a “positive gesture”, it has ordered its armed wing -- the New People’s Army (NPA) -- to release six “prisoners of war” if the February 22-27 talks proceed.
In a Feb. 1 statement, the NPA withdrew its unilateral cease-fire, citing the Duterte administration's “failure” to release all political prisoners and the military's alleged encroachment on territory under the group’s control.
NPA spokesperson Ka Oris, however, said the group would continue to support peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the CPP’s political arm.
Duterte later announced the end of the government’s cease-fire and told authorities to get released NDF political prisoners who attended recent talks in Norway and Rome back in prison.
“The revolutionary forces are encouraged by the previous statements of President Duterte that all political prisoners will be released within 48 hours once the bilateral cease-fire agreement is signed," the CPP said in its latest statement.
It described proposed talks on a bilateral cease-fire as likely to be the “most difficult” but stressed its willingness to work with the government panel in hammering out an agreement that “will be mutually acceptable and enforceable”.
The group also urged Duterte to retract recent proclamations on the termination of peace talks.
“He would surely not want to set aside the achievements attained during the first three rounds of GRP-[NDF] peace talks and waste the opportunity to leave a legacy of peace,” it added.
According to the statement, the six government troops who may be released were captured by rebels in four separate incidents in troubled southern Mindanao island over the past month.
It said NPA commands could work closely with third-party facilitators for their release before or during the scheduled negotiations assuming that the Philippine military cooperates by withdrawing all troops in and around the area where they will be freed.
The insurgency has been running since 1968. It has claimed 30,000 lives, according to the military, and stagnated development.