Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte announces ceasefire with communist guerrilla, urges rebels to do same

Members of the New People's Army at a training camp. Photograph:( Getty )

AFP Manila, Philippines Jul 25, 2016, 09.46 AM (IST)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced on Monday a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels who are waging one of Asia's longest insurgencies and urged them to reciprocate.

Duterte made the announcement in his first "State of the Nation Address" to the Congress as he laid the groundwork for peace talks with the communists that are due to begin in Norway next month.

"To stop violence on the ground and restore peace, I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire," Duterte told lawmakers, as he called on the rebels to do the same.

The rebellion has killed about 30,000 since the 1960s.

According to the military, the communists' armed wing, the New People's Army, is believed to have some 4,000 gunmen today, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s.

It retains support among the deeply poor in rural areas, and its troops regularly kill security forces and extort money from local businesses.

Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino, revived negotiations soon after taking office in 2010, but shelved them in 2013, accusing the rebels of being insincere about finding a political settlement.

The talks collapsed after his government rejected the rebels' demand to release scores of their jailed comrades whom they described as "political prisoners".

Duterte, who took office on June 30 and publicly acknowledges exiled communist rebel leader, Jose Maria Sison, as a friend, had offered to release some political prisoners.

His aides have already held preliminary talks with Sison and other senior communist leaders during which they agreed to resume the peace negotiations next month.