MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine communist rebels warned President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday that they may be forced to end their monthslong cease-fire and resume fighting if he does not suspend the government's counterinsurgency program and withdraw troops from rebel-influenced areas.
The Communist Party of the Philippines said that if Duterte fulfills the demands by January and releases remaining political detainees through an amnesty, it can guarantee the cease-fire's extension, helping to foster peace talks brokered by Norway.
New People's Army guerrillas, however, will be forced to engage troops if the president presses the military's deployment of troops in what the rebels claim as "guerrilla zones" in the countryside, the outlawed party said in a statement.
"He will only have himself to blame if this forces the hand of the Communist Party of the Philippines to terminate its unilateral cease-fire declaration," it said.
While no fighting has erupted since both sides declared separate cease-fires in August, the Maoist guerrillas have complained that troops continued to be deployed in rebel areas to carry out surveillance and other counterinsurgency operation in what they say are violations of the government's own truce.
The military is unlikely to relent to the rebel demands. It has denied rebel allegations that it has violated the government cease-fire by deploying counterinsurgency troops in rural areas where the rebels claim to have influence. Troops deployed in rural areas were either accompanying government workers or helping to carry out rural projects, military officials say.
Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano, a longtime combat intelligence officer who was inaugurated as the new military chief of staff Wednesday, said the military would support government efforts for the peaceful resolution of armed conflicts.
"But even as we uphold and respect the primacy of peace, make no mistake about it, we shall remain to be a lethal force capable of destroying any threat to our nation," Ano said. "We will not let our people cower in the face of lawlessness and terrorism."
Battle setbacks, surrenders and infighting have weakened the rebel group, which is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the United States.
A confidential Philippine government assessment obtained by The Associated Press says the guerrillas had declined to 3,800 fighters with more than 4,500 firearms in the first half of the year, with about 700 of the country's 42,000 villages affected by the insurgency.