Philippine president releases communist rebels prior to Norway peace talks

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte came to power not only on a promise to wage a war against drug trafficking but also to negotiate an end to five decades of conflict with the Maoist New Peoples Army (NPA) that has killed more than 40,000.

The NPA has been operating in the Philippines since 1969, as described by Wikipedia: "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 Philippine Army estimates that at the end of 2015 it had about 60,000 fighters. They are spread throughout rural areas of the Philippines. The U.S. State Department designates the NPA as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and it is also branded as a terrorist organization by EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. However, the Philippine government delisted the NPA as a terrorist group in 2011 making negotiations somewhat easier.
The Philippines has let 12 NPA leaders out of jail on bail just a few days before new talks are to start in Norway. National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa said the temporary release of the leaders was the result of president Duterte's peace offer. The talks with the government had been stalled in 2012 over the refusal of the government to free the leaders who have been in jail for decades. The chief said the peace offer was one of the most positive developments in years.
Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the leftist Bayan or Nation group that is allied with the communists said that the releases were a good sign and had raised hopes that the talks, set to begin in Norway on August 22, would begin on a positive note. Among those released on bail were Tirso Alcantara one of the highest ranking guerrilla leaders who was wounded in a firefight with Philippine soldiers five years ago. However, top leaders Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma remain in prison. Activists have been demonstrating outside the national police office demanding the release of them as other senior guerrilla leaders. Human rights advocates claim that the government is holding more than 500 rebels in detention, including Muslim rebel leaders.
Another report claims that 17 guerrilla leaders were released on bail to attend the peace talks. They all vowed to return home to the Philippines rather than flee after the talks. Apparently, Benito Tamzon and his wife have also been released and he said: "We will return home after the peace talks in Oslo. We were released from jail to take part in the peace talks and we are serious about it. The negotiations in Oslo are only one part of the process and there are other talks happening in other venues."
Security forces worry that rebel leaders would stay overseas or see them as a pretext to rebuild their army and consolidate their ranks. In 1987, the leader and founder of the Philippine Communist Party, Jose Sison, after nine years of detention went to the Netherlands. He sought asylum and has lived in Utrecht for the last 30 years.
Tamzon praised Duterte saying: "This is the first and only time we have a president determined to push genuine reforms." He said that he had better prospects to end the long conflict than earlier attempts. He said that the two sides hope to negotiate a ceasefire when the talks begin on August 22. The two will also discuss political, economic, and constitutional reforms as well. Another five leaders that are still in detention hope to join the other 17 traveling to Oslo for the talks.


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