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Peace talks with communists halted after vow to resist martial law




While the current round of talks has been halted, the government says it remains committed to the peace process

The latest round of peace talks with communist rebels has been called off after they ordered their fighters to step up attacks in response to martial law.

Speaking after nearly 10 hours of closed-door discussions, the government’s chief negotiator Jesus Dureza said: “We are maintaining the decision made not to participate in the fifth round of talks.”

The talks were intended to address issues including an interim ceasefire, social and economic reforms and human rights issues.

The breakdown of the talks in the Netherlands came after President Duterte declared martial law in response to fighting involving Islamic State-affiliated terrorists in Marawi City.

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In response, communist leaders ordered their fighters to step up “tactical offensives” against the army.

Mr Dureza said talks could not continue until there were indications of an “environment conducive to achieving just and sustainable peace”.

He also stressed that the withdrawal from this round of talks would not necessarily jeopardise the peace process initiated in August last year.

Chief rebel negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said the communist negotiators had “recommended to our leadership to reconsider the order, but that takes time”.

He said the NDFP — a coalition of rebel groups dominated by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) — “deeply regretted” the government’s decision to halt the talks.

In a statement, the NDFP hit out at Mr Dureza’s comments, saying it “totally obscures the fact that the government has been waging an ‘all-out-war’ against” the New People’s Army (NPA), the CPP’s armed wing.

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It added that Duterte’s declaration of martial law in southern Mindanao “is bound to further escalate the armed conflict, aggravate the human rights situation and exacerbate the suffering of the people”.

The communist insurgency in the Philippines began in 1968 and is one of the longest running in the world, claiming an estimated 30,000 lives.

Peace talks with the communists were revived after Duterte — a self-declared socialist who was tutored by CPP founder Jose Sison when a student — took office last year.

It was Norway that encouraged both sides to come to the table, and the talks are being held at a seaside resort near Utrecht, where several rebel leaders, including Sison, live in exile.

While expressing a strong desire for peace, President Duterte has laid down several strong red lines, including that guerrillas stop collecting “revolutionary taxes” and claiming ownership of national territory.

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The president called off the last round of peace talks in February after rebels killed several soldiers and police.

NPA fighters continue to target military and police outposts and extort money from businesses, the military says.



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