Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Philippine Government and Maoist rebels reach ceasefire agreement

The Philippine government and communist rebels of the New Peoples' Army (NPA) have agreed to an indefinite ceasefire at peace talks in Oslo hosted by Norway.

The conflict between the government and the Maoist NPA has lasted almost half a century and at least 40,000 people have been killed. Wikipedia describes the NPA as follows:
 The New People's Army (NPA) (Filipino: Bagong Hukbong Bayan) is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). It was formed and founded by Bernabe Buscayno A.K.A. "Commander Dante" on March 29, 1969. The Maoist NPA conducts its armed guerrilla struggle based on the strategical line of protracted "people's war"... The Philippine Army estimated the NPA's strength at 60,000 fighters at the end of 2015.The NPA is in rural areas in many parts of the Philippines.
The government of President Rodrigo Duterte hopes a peace agreement can be reached within a year of the talks. Duterte had promised as part of his successful presidential campaign to try reach a peace agreement with the NPA. This is the first formal meeting between the two sides in five years. There have been peace talks for about thirty years now.
The Norwegian foreign minister Boerge Brende, who hosted the ceremony announcing the ceasefire said he hoped that the two sides could forge an agreement similar to that between Colombia and the Marxist FARC rebels that has also been ongoing for over half a century. Norway has been instrumental in trying forge peace deals in Colombia and the Philippines.
The Philippine government has reaffirmed its commitment to an open-ended ceasefire that started on August 21 as the NPA agreed to match it. The exiled founder of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, Jose Sison, who lives in the Netherlands said: "There is a clear plan to accelerate the peace negotiations". The rebels are demanding radical reforms such as the redistribution of land to poor farmers, and the nationalization of industries. The National Democratic Front (NDF) the political wing of the Philippine Communist Party has agreed to meet in Oslo again on October 8.
President Duterte had released a number of jailed NPA commanders on bail to attend the talks. Both sides urged the president to grant an amnesty to all insurgents. At present, there are about 530 guerrillas in Philippine jails. The Philippine Congress would also need to approve the amnesty. Duterte has campaigned to end the clashes not just with the communist NPA but also with the main Muslim militant groups. He says that the long conflicts have hampered Philippine economic development. Reuters sets the number of NPA fighters at just 3,000 much lower than the Philippine Army figure. At its peak in the 1980's the NPA was thought to have had around 30,000 fighters. Al Jazeera gives a present figure of just around 4,000
Jesus Dureza spokesperson for President Duterte said: "This is a historic and unprecedented event ... [but] there is still a lot of work to be done ahead." An agreement to indefinite ceasefires has never been reached before. The two sides also agreed that they would speed up the peace process by coming to substantial agreement on economic and social reforms within six months according to a statement by the Norwegian foreign ministry. This agreement would be followed by agreement on political and constitutional reforms and then a final agreement to end armed conflict would be signed.
President Duterte hailed the progress in Norway saying: "We are in a better position [to talk peace] now. There is a window. We are not fighting the Communists. They have declared a truce. In return, I also ordered a ceasefire." An agreement was renewed that allows immunity for members of the National Democratic Front (NDF) so that they can participate in negotiations without fear of arrest. In 2002 the US listed both the NPA and Communist Party of the Philippines as terrorist organizations. However they are no longer listed as such in the Philippines making negotiations less difficult.
Although a supporter and admirer of dictator Ferdinand Marcos who was staunchly anti-communist, Duterte has had relatively positive relations with the NPA. He has at times described himself as a socialist. He has even sketched out the possibility of a coalition government with the rebels. He was a university student of Jose Sison now 77, who founded the Communist Party of the Philippines. The communists have supported Duterte in his controversial campaign against drug dealers and users. Duterte wants peace with both communist and Muslim rebels as a way to help end poverty in the Philippines and foster economic development.


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