Updated: March 23, 2017 07:28 AM GMT
Philippine activists call for the resumption of peace talks with communist rebels during a demonstration in Manila in February. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
A faith-based group in the Philippines appealed to the government and communist rebels for "more openness, trust, and transparency" as both parties start another round of talks next week.
Government peace negotiators and leaders of the communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines are set to meet for a new round of talks in the town of Noordwijk in the Netherlands starting April 2.
"We dream of dialogue tables that are inclusive, ensuring participation of various stakeholders," read a statement released by the Philippine-Misereor Partnership Inc (PMPI).
The PMPI is a social development network of people's organizations, faith-based groups, and Misereor, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Germany.
It expressed "relief" over the decision of both parties to go back to the negotiating table after talks collapsed in February following alleged violations of truce agreements.
"We are relieved that the wind has changed in favor of just and lasting peace," said Yoly Esguerra, PMPI national coordinator.
She warned, however, that "deadly firefights are still happening in communities."
Esguerra said "vulnerable communities" affected by the conflict "must be prioritized to be able to lay a strong foundation for the peace based on justice."
"This time both parties must consider that listening and giving space and justice to the victims of long-standing war should not be a separate agenda," added Esguerra.
Oblate Sister Susan Bolanio, a co-convenor of PMPI, appealed to government and rebel negotiators to "take the peace talks seriously."
"I have been working in communities for more than 40 years. I have visited countless families, communities who have suffered from armed conflict. It is these communities in rural areas that suffer most," she said.
Jack Pamine of the group Pax Christi noted reports the communist guerrillas continue to attack government positions while the military have also conducted aerial bombings in the southern Philippines resulting in the displacement of tribal communities.
"With people and combatants getting injured and dying in rural areas, even the good news that peace talks will continue appears to be a distant reality," said Pamine.
In a statement, the Norwegian government, which has served as third party facilitator of the negotiations since 2001, noted that "despite challenges along the way, the parties continue to show their commitment to peace."
Erik Forner, Norwegian ambassador to the Philippines, said the next round of talks will focus on issues related to social and economic reforms and a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
The talks aim at ending five decades of communist insurgency that has so far claimed the lives of some 30,000 people, according to government estimates.
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