Philippine government, rebels agree to peace negotiations


  • World
  • Tuesday, 28 Nov 2023

FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gestures as he delivers his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), at the House of Representative in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David/File photo

MANILA (Reuters) -The Philippine government and the country's communist rebels have agreed to restart peace negotiations after a six-year hiatus, with the aim of ending decades of armed strife, the two sides and facilitator Norway said on Tuesday.

The bloody conflict between authorities and the New People's Army (NPA), the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has raged for over 50 years and killed more than 40,000 people.

High-ranking delegations from both sides last week agreed to a "common vision for peace" that sought to address key obstacles, which was revealed by Norway's foreign ministry on Tuesday.

If negotiations succeed, the rebels will end their armed struggle and transform into a political movement, according to Norway, which has facilitated the South East Asian island nation's peace process for around 20 years.

"The parties agree to a principled and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict," they said in their joint statement, adding that the peace talks will address "deep rooted socioeconomic and political grievances".

Removing the communist party and affiliated groups from a government list of designated terror organizations was included in the talks, government Peace Process Adviser Carlito Galvez told a press conference in Manila.

No immediate ceasefire was announced, however, and operations against the rebels would continue, Philippine military chief General Romeo Brawner said.

But Brawner also said an eventual peace deal would allow the armed forces to focus on external and territorial defence rather than domestic conflict.

"If this conflict will finally end, your Armed Forces of the Philippines will be able to shift our focus to external or territorial defence. Our resources, efforts will be poured into defending our territory," he said.

Formal talks were last conducted in 2017 but were acrimoniously terminated by then-President Rodrigo Duterte, whose bid to revive negotiations also failed.

He left office in mid-2022 and was replaced by Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Norwegian facilitators maintained contact with the parties, leading to confidential talks and a secret Nov. 23 signing ceremony at the Oslo City Hall attended by exiled rebel leaders and several Philippine government ministers, among others.

The announcement comes less than a week after Marcos Jr. issued an order granting amnesty to several rebel groups, including former members of the communist movement.

Under the amnesty order, former CPP, NPA and NDFP members would be absolved of crimes they committed "in pursuit of political beliefs".

The talks had resumed before the death last year of self-exiled Communist Party founder Jose Maria Sison, who passed away in a Dutch hospital in December at the age of 83, Norway said.

The communist rebels will be represented in the negotiations by their political wing, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which has been in on-again, off-again peace talks with the government since 1986.

(Reporting by Mikhail Flores and Karen Lema; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Ed Osmond)

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