Philippine talks with Maoist rebels hit an impasse

AP News
Posted: Nov 09, 2011 4:45 AM
Philippine talks with Maoist rebels hit an impasse

Negotiations to end one of Asia's longest-running Marxist insurgencies have stalled in the Philippines after Maoist rebels insisted jailed comrades be released and escalated attacks on government troops and mining companies, the government said Wednesday.

The guerrillas wanted several more comrades freed after the government released five in recent months, one of whom is believed to have returned to fight with the rebels, government negotiator Alexander Padilla said. He said the government would not release more rebels.

Padilla called on the guerrillas to return to the negotiating table and said both sides may miss the mid-2012 deadline to complete the talks.

"We're no longer advancing because we keep going in circles," Padilla said in a news conference.

Norway, which has been brokering the talks, has tried to bridge differences between the Manila government and the guerrillas but has not brought them back to the negotiating table.

Rebel negotiators refused to meet government counterparts in June and last month, demanding the release of 13 more jailed guerrillas. They said the 13 are consultants in the peace talks and are covered by a 1995 agreement that provided them temporary immunity from prosecution and arrest.

Padilla said the rebels failed to produce proof the detainees are covered by the agreement.

A list of 75 rebel consultants supposedly with pictures was deposited in a Dutch vault in 1996 by both sides and church witnesses so it could serve as a future basis for identifying guerrilla consultants who could be immune from arrests. Both sides, however, discovered in July that two diskettes containing the list have been damaged and its details could no longer be retrieved, Padilla said.

"We're not willing to accept any new list, that would be foolish," Padilla said.

Chief rebel negotiator Luis Jalandoni has said that the release of detained guerrillas is not merely a goodwill gesture but a "commitment and an obligation" agreed by the two sides when talks resumed in February after being suspended for seven years.

A recent wave of rebel attacks, including an assault by more than 200 New People's Army guerrillas that devastated three nickel mining complexes in southern Surigao del Norte province in October, has also damaged efforts to build trust, Padilla said.

"These attacks are not helping to create a conducive atmosphere for the negotiations," he said.

Military officials have said the attacks were part of rebel extortion attempts. The guerrillas, however, accused the mining firms of causing massive environmental pollution and exploiting Filipino workers by paying them cheap wages in dangerous work conditions.

The rebels have been fighting for a Marxist state since 1969, accusing successive Philippine administrations of subservience to U.S. interests and failing to improve the lives of the poor. Their numbers have dwindled to an estimated 4,000 fighters amid battle setbacks, surrenders and factionalism. They are listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union.