Philippines’ Duterte scraps peace talks with communist rebels

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MANILA, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday the government is “cancelling” its peace talks with the communist rebels.

In an interview with reporters in his home city in Davao, Duterte said he is ordering members of the government peace panel “to fold up tents and come home.”

“Peace talks will remain cancelled unless there is compelling reason that will benefit the interest of the nation,” he told reporters.

He said he would order the Philippine negotiators to come home. “I am not ready to resume (the talks). As I have said peace with the communists might not come in this generation,” he said.

Asked again if the government is “scrapping” the talks, Duterte answered, “Yes, entirely.”

Pressed again if the suspension is “temporary,” he said, “maybe.”

Asked again if the talks could resume “sometime mid-term,” Duterte said, “Do it after my term if there is still one.”

“I’ve tried everything as you can see I walk the extra mile, release prisoners, release their leaders so they can got to Oslo, Norway to talk. Now, they want 400 plus prisoners who fought the government under rebellion crime,” Duterte said.

The government and the communist rebels announced before the weekend their decision to scrap the truce they declared since the start of the latest talks in August. The move dampened prospects to reach a negotiated settlement between the two sides.

The rebels were first to announce their intention to put an end to the truce, saying Duterte failed to keep his promise to release some 400 political prisoners. Barely three days later after the rebels’ announcement the government has decided to scrap its truce because the rebels of continuously attacked the government troops.

Duterte denied making a promise to release all prisoners, saying he did not intend to free all of them. “We started with 18 (prisoners) and we came up 23 leaders and now it’s 400,” he said, adding that releasing the prisoners is tantamount to a government surrender.

Duterte, the commander in chief, ordered the Philippine armed forces on Friday to resume offensive against the New People’s Army rebels that have been trying to overthrow the government since 1969.

“Let’s resume (the military offensive). Take your position and be alert,” Duterte told his troops on Friday.

The president on Saturday repeated his order to the military “to prepare for the long struggle.”

Duterte expressed his pessimism that a negotiated settlement with the communist rebels would succeed.

“I have lost so many soldiers in just 48 hours. I think to continue with a ceasefire does not or will not produce anything,” he said.

The Duterte administration revived the talks with communist rebels in August. Norway has agreed to broker the talks again. So far, both sides have conducted three rounds of talks. Another talk is slated this month.

Since 1986, the government has been trying to reach a peace deal with the communist rebels but failed to make any headway.

The communist rebellion began in 1969 and reached its peak in 1987 when it boasted 26,000 armed militants.

However, the movement has since dwindled due to differences in strategy and tactics and the arrests of many of its top leaders in the late 1980s. The military estimates the communist armed rebels at around 4,000.

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