Philippine leader warns rebels ahead of new round of talks

AP News
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Posted: Apr 03, 2017 9:36 AM

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened Monday to unleash new attack aircraft and the "full power of the state" against communist rebels if a new round of peace talks fails, and insisted they accept new conditions including a halt to extortion and to territorial claims.

Government and rebel negotiators have flown to the Netherlands for a resumption of the talks, which collapsed in February after Duterte angrily protested the killings of government troops in renewed attacks by the New People's Army rebels. The formal opening ceremony of the Norwegian-brokered talks, which the government announced would take place Sunday, was delayed by a day.

"We're facing the NPAs, we're having talks in the Netherlands, they have not made any progress because I have some conditions to impose before we go back," Duterte said in a speech at the presidential palace in Manila.

He accused the guerrillas of undermining the talks and said the 48-year conflict — one of Asia's longest-running rebellions — may continue if the rebels don't accept his conditions.

Government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III acknowledged the difficulty of the talks in a speech at the ceremony marking the resumption of talks. He welcomed the rebels' openness to a possible joint cease-fire.

"Our discussion in the following days may prove to be difficult and exacting given the diversity of the positions taken by the parties on the issues at hand," he said in his speech, a copy of which was issued by the presidential palace in Manila.

Duterte told reporters Sunday that he had asked Bello and his adviser on the talks, Jesus Dureza, to stick to four new conditions he has laid down, including the forging of a joint cease-fire and an end to extortion by the rebels and their claims to rural territories. All military, police and civilians held by the rebels should also be freed, he said.

"Without these, there will be no peace talks," Duterte said Sunday.

There was no immediate rebel reaction to Duterte's new conditions. In the past, they have rejected government conditions they deemed were a surrender of the advances they say they have made in their rural-based uprising.

Duterte said Monday that he would use newly acquired attack aircraft and other weapons against the guerrillas if the talks go nowhere.

"I'll really use those against the enemies of the government," he said. "I will not hesitate to use the full power of the state."

The rebels have negotiated unsuccessfully with five Philippine presidents before Duterte. Battle setbacks, surrenders and infighting have weakened the guerrilla group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and remains a major Philippine security threat.

The rebels and the government declared separate cease-fires last year as they resumed peace talks after Duterte took office in June. That allowed the government to withdraw troops from battlefields to focus on an offensive against the Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim extremist groups in the country's south.

The initially upbeat negotiations under Duterte gradually unraveled as the rebels accused troops of violating the government's own cease-fire by continuing combat operations in what they said were their rural strongholds. The rebels and Duterte separately lifted their cease-fires, sparking new violence that left rebel and military casualties.