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Communist rebels urged to resume talks

Rebels refuse unless dozens of members are freed

Communist rebels urged to resume talks
The Philippines communist insurgency is among the oldest in Asia at 44 years (AFP photo by Geonarri Solmerano) reporter, Manila

April 30, 2013

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The government and military have urged communist rebels to restart peace negotiations after admitting that talks were dead, all but ending hopes of a peace deal by the administration's pre-set deadline of 2016.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Monday said that it was time to resume talks in a bid to end the 44-year-long insurgency in the Philippines. It is nearly two years since the Norway-sponsored negotiations last took place.

“Right now we are at an impasse. There is no progress in the negotiations… [Both sides] can’t agree, so right now we are at a stalemate,” Gazmin told a press conference in Manila.

The communists have said that they will not return to the negotiating table unless dozens of their members are freed.

Authorities previously agreed to release those directly involved in the peace process but has insisted that the communists should prove their identity and role in the talks.

The government’s chief negotiator Alex Padilla called communist demands “just preposterous” on Friday.

“We cannot wait forever for the other side,” he added.

At the start of 2011, both sides said they were aiming to sign a peace deal by mid-2012 following positive talks in Norway.

President Benigno Aquino has said that he hoped to end the conflict by the end of his term in 2016. But Padilla conceded that hopes of meeting this deadline had gone as he spoke of a “new approach” by the administration.

The defense secretary said on Monday that there would be an effort to engage the dwindling communist forces on the ground in a bid to build peace from the grassroots up.

“If you are a commander and you want peace, you should talk to them [the rebels],” said Gazmin. “Some of them are tired [of fighting] and they can see the benefits of peace.”

The military has estimated that the rebels only have about 4,000 armed men under their command compared to more than 26,000 at their peak 30 years ago.

Despite dwindling numbers, the rebels still hold considerable sway in poor, rural areas where they receive material and moral support from a population which has endured the brunt of the Philippines' wide rich-poor divide.

In response, state forces have in recent years focused on targeted military operations while also channeling development aid into key areas of Mindanao, especially since peace negotiations had again broken down.

Protestant Bishop Felixberto Calang, head of the advocacy group Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao, said that he was "perplexed as to the ease with which the government has given up on the talks."

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