Philippines, Communists On 'highway To Peace'

Philippines, Communists on 'highway to peace'

OSLO, (Pakistan Point News - APP - 26th August, 2016) - The Philippine government and Communist guerrillas on Friday signed an indefinite ceasefire deal to facilitate peace talks aimed at ending one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies. "This is a historic and unprecedented event ... (but) there is still a lot of work to be done ahead," President Rodrigo Duterte's peace adviser, Jesus Dureza, said at a signing ceremony in Norway, which is mediating the talks.

Both sides agreed to implement unilateral, indefinite ceasefires -- something that has never been achieved before in the peace process. Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende described the agreement as a "major breakthrough." "We are on the highway to peace and we are talking of a timeline of maximum 12 months," Silvestre Bello, the Philippine government delegation's head of negotiations, told AFP. The two parties have been meeting in Oslo since Monday, wrapping up their talks with the signing ceremony on Friday.

As a prelude to the negotiations, both sides had agreed to a ceasefire, but the truce commitment by the Communist side was due to end on Saturday. The two parties also agreed to "speed up the peace process, and aim to reach the first substantial agreement on economic and social reforms within six months," a statement from the Norwegian foreign ministry said. "They plan to follow this up with an agreement on political and constitutional reforms, before a final agreement on ending the armed conflict can be signed.

" The two delegations agreed to meet again in Oslo on October 8-12. - 'Good atmosphere' - ===================== The head of the rebel delegation, Luis Jalandoni, was optimistic about the potential for achieving a lasting peace deal. "We think that the peace talks now can move forward with a good atmosphere and try to move on with the (negotiations on) social and economic reforms, which are vital for addressing the roots of the armed conflict," he told AFP.

The government and the rebels also renewed an agreement that ensures immunity and security for key representatives of the rebels' political wing, the National Democratic Fr ont, so that they can take part in the negotiations. The Communist Party of the Philippines launched a rebellion in 1968 that has so far claimed the lives of 30,000 people, according to official estimates. Its armed faction, the New People's Army (NPA), is now believed to have fewer than 4,000 gunmen, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, when a bloodless revolt ended the 20-year dictatorship of late president Ferdinand Marcos.

They remain particularly active in rural areas, where they are notorious for extorting money from local businesses. They also regularly attack police and military forces, sometimes targeting them in urban areas. Forging peace with the rebels has been the elusive goal of Philippine presidents since a 1986 revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The force behind the current talks is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office on June 30 after a landslide election victory.