MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Friday he has ended the government's six-month ceasefire with communist rebels and ordered troops to prepare for new fighting after the guerrillas lifted their own truce and killed six soldiers in fresh violence.
Duterte disclosed his decision in a speech two days after the Marxist guerrillas said they would abandon their own ceasefire because the government wouldn't release what they consider political detainees and the military was encroaching into their rural strongholds.
The hostile moves are a blow to ongoing talks brokered by Norway that have progressed steadily in recent months toward the goal of ending one of Asia's longest-running Marxist rebellions, which has left about 40,000 combatants and civilians dead.
Duterte said he freed rebel leaders last year to foster the peace talks but added that the guerrillas raised excessive demands, including the release of about 400 detainees, that would amount to a general amnesty and upset the military and the police.
"I'm sad to report to you that there will be no peace with the communists for the next generations," Duterte said, saying the conflict may last another half a century. "This will just be wiping out each other now, I can't do anything," Duterte said in his speech in southern North Cotabato province.
Military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano welcomed Duterte's decision, citing the killings of six soldiers, including an officer, and the abductions of three other military personnel by New People's Army guerrillas in recent attacks.
"We welcome the pronouncement of the president because the Armed Forces of the Philippines has to do its mandate of protecting the people, securing the community and taking care of our own soldiers too," Ano said.
Troops will hunt down the rebels and prevent them from committing atrocities and crimes against the public, Ano said, adding the military will continue to support talks aimed at settling the rebellion peacefully.
The rebels and the government declared separate ceasefires last year as they resumed peace talks. That allowed the government to withdraw troops from battlefields with the communists to focus on a monthslong offensive against the Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim extremist groups in three battlefronts in the south.
The prospect of new fighting with the Maoist rebels, estimated to number 3,700, comes after Duterte announced he would enlist the already overburdened military in his anti-drug crackdown after prohibiting the national police and the National Bureau of Investigation — the Philippine counterpart of America's FBI — from enforcing his controversial campaign due to corruption and an extortion scandal.
The Communist Party of the Philippines and its rebel wing announced Wednesday it would halt its ceasefire Feb. 10 after accusing the government of reneging on earlier pledges to free more left-wing detainees and raising concerns over Duterte's brutal anti-drug crackdown and his allowing the burial of long-dead dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a heroes' cemetery.
Founded in 1968, the rural-based guerrilla group has unsuccessfully tried to negotiate an end to its rebellion with six Philippine presidents, including Duterte.
Battle setbacks, surrenders and infighting have weakened the rebel group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.
Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.