Philippine rebels urge President Rodrigo Duterte to resume peace talks

Communist guerrillas in the Philippines want to proceed with peace talks that President Rodrigo Duterte has scrapped.

But they warned that reimposing a ceasefire would be difficult if the military keeps on violating the truce.

Mr Duterte on Friday lifted the government's six-month-old ceasefire with the rebels and said on Saturday that he was scrapping the talks brokered by Norway.

Those moves came after the guerrillas abandoned their own truce and killed six soldiers and kidnapped two others in fresh violence.

The government and the rebels separately declared ceasefires last year to foster peace talks, which had steadily progressed in recent months before rapidly deteriorating in recent weeks.

On Monday, rebel adviser Luis Jalandoni accused the military of violating the government's own ceasefire.

He said it had deployed troops in about 500 villages across the country, occupied village halls and schools and continued counterinsurgency operations like surveillance that he said inevitably led to new fighting.

The guerrillas are ready to continue with talks in Norway scheduled for February 22-25 to negotiate a possible joint ceasefire agreement, Mr Jalandoni said.

He added that the government has not issued a formal notice required to terminate the talks.

"We're saying the peace talks are still possible in the absence of a ceasefire," he told radio DZMM by telephone from Europe.

Mr Duterte called the insurgents terrorists after accusing them of killing some of the six soldiers like pigs and raking them with gunfire.

He said several rebel leaders who were temporarily freed to join the peace talks as consultants should return to the country and go back to jail, threatening to have them arrested if they refused.

Mr Jalandoni, however, said the 17 freed rebels are protected by a 1995 agreement under which the government agreed to grant them immunity from arrest while serving as peace talks consultants.

All the rebels have returned to the Philippines after joining a recent round of talks in Rome and should not be arrested, he said.

Despite his tough stance, Mr Duterte said on Saturday that he may reconsider his decision if there was a compelling reason.

His adviser on the peace talks, Jesus Dureza, suggested on Sunday that the president's decision may still change.

"At the moment, he has clearly spoken on the directions we all in government should take," Mr Dureza said.

"As I always say, the road to just and lasting peace is not easy to traverse. There are humps and bumps, and curves and detours along the way. What is important is that we all stay the course."

The setback in the talks is the latest reality check for Mr Duterte, whose crackdown on illegal drugs, which has killed thousands of suspects since he took office in June, has also hit a dilemma.

Mr Duterte prohibited the 170,000-strong national police and the National Bureau of Investigation, another key law enforcement agency, from enforcing his campaign.

The order came amid an extortion scandal sparked by the killing of a South Korean businessman by police officers involved in the anti-drugs fight.

The president has said he will enlist the military to support the crackdown, now in the hands of a small anti-narcotics agency.

That would put more pressure on government forces, which are carrying out an offensive against Muslim extremist groups in three battlefronts in the south and now have to prepare for a possible resumption of fighting with the communist rebels.

AP


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