Safety of self-exiled communist leaders coming for peace talks assured

Manila: Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano assured the safety of communist rebel representatives should they decide to return to the Philippines to talk peace with government negotiators.

“To hold the formal negotiations in our country will not kill or paralyse the peace talks but will, in fact, facilitate negotiations that will hopefully end this decades-old armed conflict that has brought so much misery to our country,” Ano said in a statement.

As Interior Secretary, Ano exercises control over the national police with regards to internal security. He could provide non-military personnel to secure the peace negotiators.

Last June 14, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a halt in the informal “back channel” negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples’ Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) as both sides agreed to a three-month “review” of agreements signed with past administration.

Agreements signed before include the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) for NDF negotiators and consultants and the Comprehensive Agreement to Respect Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

Duterte wants the peace negotiations to be conducted in the Philippines instead of other countries, such as Norway which hosted past negotiations. He said previous experiences in holding the talks elsewhere does not seem to have an effect of expediting the peace process.

Ano, for his part, said holding the talks in the country to end the nearly 50-year-old insurgency conflict is not only logical but also practical because it will spare taxpayers of the prohibitive cost of holding talks in Europe.

“The Filipino taxpayer has been spending millions in logistical costs for the peace talks that could otherwise be saved if the talks are held in the Philippines,” he said.

“Holding the talks in the country need not be a deal-breaker because neutral venues can be found in hotels or privately-owned places. Moreover, the presence of local media and the government’s guarantee will ensure the safety of their negotiators,” he said.

CPP founder Jose Maria Sison had said that he was willing to go to the Philippines once “substantial progress” had been achieved in the negotiations.

Sison had been living for nearly three decades in self-imposed exile in the Netherlands along with other Philippine communist leaders.

According to the Philippine military, the communists had suffered considerable losses over the past few months since Duterte declared a return of government operations against insurgents.

The armed forces of the Philippines had estimated the troop strength of the rebels at a little more than 3,000 fighters operating in various areas of the country, especially in Northern and Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, the Bicol Region, the Visayas Island and Mindanao.

Duterte had earlier declared an unconditional unilateral ceasefire with the rebels only for insurgents to press on with their attacks against government forces.

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