MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Communist guerrillas in the Philippines vowed Monday to make more explosive mines and step up their attacks, defying a warning by President Rodrigo Duterte and putting at risk scheduled peace talks.
After visiting the wake of three soldiers killed by a rebel land mine, Duterte warned over the weekend that if another soldier died from such weapons, he would call off the planned resumption of long-stalled peace negotiations on Aug. 20 in Norway.
He repeated his threat Monday in a speech to army troops at a military camp in central Catbalogan city.
"I will not plead for it because I am the president," he said. "Do not use that land mine. If I hear one more explosion, goodbye, and you peace panel, come home, don't waste your money there and talk nonsense.
"These communists, if you're listening, you have been at war with this government for 45 years. Do you want to fight another 45 years?" Duterte asked.
The Communist Party of the Philippines and its guerrilla wing, the New People's Army, rejected Duterte's demand and vowed in a statement to step up the manufacture of remotely-detonated explosive devices and their use in guerrilla assaults. The rebels said they do not use banned land mines but make and use devices that are planted beforehand and detonated remotely.
The communist party "is not one to back down from threats of war by Duterte," the rebels said. "Waging people's war has always been the path to strengthen the revolution and accumulate victories."
Duterte, who labels himself a leftist president, initially built rapport with the Maoist guerrillas by offering two key Cabinet posts to left-wing activists and offering the communists a part in his administration. A rebel leader, Jose Maria Sison, had planned to return home after three decades of self-exile in Europe to meet Duterte, who used to be his student at a Manila university.
The blossoming relations became strained quickly, however, as the president declared a ceasefire but withdrew it five days later after the rebels killed a militiaman in southern Davao del Norte province and failed to declare their own truce by his deadline.
Duterte accused the guerrillas on Monday of surviving through extortion of mining companies and vast banana plantations in the south and added that the rebels have been unable to control even one village for 24 hours or help left-wing candidates win in elections independently.
The guerrillas said the president's "mindset is becoming more and more militarized as he hops from one military camp to the next."
"He is showing himself to be more and more cantankerous, inventing one reason after another to attack the (communist party and the rebels) instead of finding ways to push forward peace negotiations," the rebels said.
The decades-long communist insurgency, one of Asia's longest-running, has left about 150,000 combatants and civilians dead since the late 1960s. It also has stunted economic development, especially in the countryside, where the Maoist insurgents are active.