By Roy Ramos
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) - Representatives of the Philippines' incoming president and the country's communist party have concluded informal preliminary talks in Norway that may lead to possible peace negotiations, a former congressman working in the new administration's negotiation team said in a tweet Wednesday.
Interaksyon, the online news portal of TV5, reported that Hernani Braganza uploaded a picture of the government’s peace panel and Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) representatives in Oslo with the following caption: "Till we meet again!"
Included in the image were incoming peace adviser Jesus Dureza and Silvestre Bello, and members of the CPP, the New People's Army (NPA, the CPP's armed wing), and the National Democratic Front (NDF, its political wing), including exiled party founder Jose Maria Sison and NDF official Luis Jalandoni.
The portal quoted an observer to the meeting as saying both panels were "optimistic" about the prospects of resuming formal negotiations as early as next month, after Rodrigo Duterte is sworn in.
Duterte, who is set to be inaugurated June 30, has made overtures toward the CPP, with both sides expressing a willingness to meet in Norway for the preparatory meetings aimed at paving the way for the formal talks.
Negotiations with the CPP-NDF had collapsed in 2004 after the communists withdrew from the negotiating table on account of the renewed inclusion of Sison and the NPA on the United States terrorist list.
Sison -- Duterte’s former professor at a Manila university -- has been in exile in the Netherlands since the failure of 1987 peace talks.
In 2014, negotiations again failed because outgoing President Benigno Aquino III turned down the rebels' demand to release detained comrades -- accusing the rebels of insincerity in efforts to achieve a political settlement.
In his peace overtures, Duterte has said that he will release all political prisoners if party leaders return from exile and sit down for negotiations.
Earlier this month he also offered the CPP posts in his new government to smooth the way.
Since March 1969, the NPA has been waging one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies in the country, which -- according to the military -- has claimed more than 3,000 lives over the past eight years.
The military estimates that the number of NPA members has dropped from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s to less than 4,000.