philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte has said he wants to “walk the extra mile” to achieve peace with Communist guerrillas in Philippines and end a conflict which has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives since the 1960s, reports BBC.

The peace talks will be held in Rome on 18 January, in which the two sides will aim to reach a bilateral ceasefire deal.

The present Philippines government has already held two rounds of formal discussions with the rebels since Duterte took office last year.

The president has attempted to win the rebels’ trust through a series of confidence-building measures by appointing rebel sympathisers to his cabinet and releasing high-ranking rebels from prison.

The rebels have reciprocated by releasing police officers they were holding hostage.

Both sides have also separately declared a series of unilateral ceasefires, but are yet to agree to a joint ceasefire deal.

The principal demands of the CPP for a peace deal include: wide-ranging land reform, national industrialization, environmental protection, better social services and an Independent foreign policy.

The rebels strongly oppose the US military presence in the Philippines and have in the past killed American service personnel stationed in the country. They consider both China and Russia as imperialist countries.

Since the last round of talks in October, the rebels have criticised Duterte’s warming relations with Russia and China and his move to allow a hero’s burial for late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

In a December 26 audio visual message, Jose Maria Sison, who established the party in 1968, condemned the Duterte government for reneging on its commitment to the peace negotiations, particularly on the amnesty and freedom of all political prisoners.

In a press conference, former chief of the National Democratic Front peace negotiating panel Luis Jalandoni stressed that the NDF will not lay down its arms even as it is engaged in peace talks with the Duterte government. NDF is a frontal organization of the Communist Party of Philippines.

The Communist Party of Philippines began its armed struggle in 1968 to overthrow the government through guerrilla warfare and establish a democratic, socialist Philippines. The party was led by academic, author and poet Jose Maria Sison.

The CPP has two related units: its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), and its political arm, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF). The NDF is the umbrella organization of communist-run organizations, and it represents the CPP-NPA in negotiations with the Philippine government.

The CPP’s armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), is believed to number around 4,000 fighters, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s during the martial law era.

Both the CPP and NPA were designated foreign terrorist organisations by the US government in 2002.

From 60 members in 1969, the group attracted followers all over the country, reaching its peak of about 26,000 members in 1987, according to military estimates. The group’s numbers have since declined following years of military operations and internal purges within the CPP-NPA, with less than 4,000 rebels estimated as of present. But the CPP continues to gather support in poor rural areas around the country.

Since the 1980s they have entered into talks with successive governments, but a peace deal has remained elusive.

For the past 3 decades and 5 Philippine presidents, there have been over 40 peace negotiations with the CPP to hammer out a political settlement to end the armed conflict.

The ceasefires have been marred by the killings of soldiers and rebels.

Government officials accused the CPP of being unable to control its armed wing after four soldiers were killed in an NPA landmine attack in July.

The attack led Duterte to temporarily lift the government ceasefire.

Days later, an NPA rebel was killed in a battle with the military in Surigao del Norte province.

Unlike Communist guerrillas in Columbia, who laid down their arms after a recent peace deal, the Philippines communists said they would not give up arms even if a deal was reached. They also accused the military of using Duterte’s drug war as a pretext to mount operations in rebel areas amid the ceasefire.

A real sticking point in recent months has been the issue of freeing around 400 detained rebels. The CPP demands that the government grant a general amnesty to these rebels as part of negotiations.

After Duterte refused, insisting that the rebels must first agree to a joint ceasefire deal, the rebels accused him of “capriciously changing his mind” on the issue.

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