Philippines, communist rebels resume peace talks in Rome

AP News
Posted: Jan 19, 2017 2:18 AM

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine negotiators and communist guerrillas are set to resume peace talks in Rome on Thursday, with the Maoist insurgents warning that alleged government violations of an accord on human rights may prompt them to end a monthslong ceasefire.

The presidential adviser to the talks, Jesus Dureza, said the government is optimistic "with managed expectations" about the resumption of the Norway-brokered negotiations in the Italian capital.

"These issues, although difficult, are surmountable with both sides sharing common aspirations for peace," Dureza said in a statement.

Rebel chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili was less optimistic, saying the guerrillas have raised a number of complaints, including alleged government breaches of a 1998 accord on respecting human rights and another pact on the safety of guerrilla consultants.

Agcaoili said the complaints, including the failure to release nearly 400 detainees the rebels consider political prisoners, made extending a five-month cease-fire "untenable."

The guerrillas also expressed concern over President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal crackdown on illegal drugs, which have left thousands of drug suspects dead, and his decision to allow the burial of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a heroes' cemetery in November, Agcaoili said.

Innocent people have been killed in Duterte's crackdown "due to brutal, reckless and indiscriminate methods employed by the police in its anti-drug operations," Agcaoili said. Duterte must shift his priority to solving the larger problem of poverty through social and economic reforms, which are the main focus of this week's round of talks, he said.

The guerrillas have accused government troops of violating a ceasefire by occupying schools, village halls and other civilian areas and conducting illegal searches, questionings and surveillance of suspected rebel supporters. The military has denied the allegations.

Founded in 1968, the rebels' Communist Party has held peace talks with six Philippine presidents, including Duterte, whose rise to power in June sparked rebel optimism due to his searing anti-U.S. rhetoric and populist pro-poor stance.

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 number of guerrillas declined to 3,800 with more than 4,500 firearms in the first half of 2016, with about 700 of the country's 42,000 villages affected by the insurgency.

Sporadic fighting has left about 40,000 combatants and civilians dead since the rural-based insurgency erupted.