Philippine govt, Communist rebels sign ceasefire deal

The Philippine government and Communist rebels sign an indefinite ceasefire deal to facilitate peace talks aimed at ending one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Philippines government negotiators Dureza, Bello, Norwegian peace talks facilitator Slattum, Norwegian Foreign Minister Brende, communist leaders Jalandoni and Solon sign an indefinite ceasefire agreement at a meeting in Oslo.

The Philippines government and Maoist-led Communist rebels agreed indefinite ceasefire on Friday as part of an accord to accelerate efforts to end a conflict that has lasted almost five decades.

"This is a historic and unprecedented event ... [but] there is still a lot of work to be done ahead," President Rodrigo Duterte's peace adviser, Jesus Dureza, said at a signing ceremony in Norway, which is mediating the talks.

Representative of the Philippine government Jesus Dureza, Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende (C) and representative of National Democratic Front (NDF) Luis Jalandoni (2nd R) after signing an indefinite ceasefire agreement, in Oslo, Norway August 26, 2016.

The conflict claimed the lives of at least 30,000 people, according to official estimates.

The government expressed hopes that a peace agreement could be reached within a year after the Oslo talks, the first formal meeting for five years. The rebels, who reiterated demands for "revolutionary change," stopped short of setting a deadline.

Both sides, at a signing ceremony in a hotel on the outskirts of Oslo, hailed the ceasefire deal and measures to step up negotiations as a breakthrough after 30 years of fitful peace talks.

"This is a historic and unprecedented event ... [but] there is still a lot of work to be done ahead."

Norwegian Foreign Minister, Borge Brende, described the agreement as a "major breakthrough."

"We are on the highway to peace and we are talking of a timeline of maximum 12 months," Silvestre Bello, the Philippine government delegation's head of negotiations, told AFP.

The two parties also agreed to "speed up the peace process, and aim to reach the first substantial agreement on economic and social reforms within six months," a statement from the Norwegian foreign ministry said.

"They plan to follow this up with an agreement on political and constitutional reforms, before a final agreement on ending the armed conflict can be signed."

The two delegations agreed to meet again in Oslo on October 8-12.

'Good atmosphere’

The head of the rebel delegation, Luis Jalandoni, was optimistic about the potential for achieving a lasting peace deal.

"We think that the peace talks now can move forward with a good atmosphere and try to move on with the [negotiations on] social and economic reforms, which are vital for addressing the roots of the armed conflict," he told AFP.

Philippine government negotiators Jesus Dureza (L) and Silvestre Bello sign an indefinite ceasefire agreement with communist rebels at a meeting in Oslo, Norway, August 26, 2016.

The government and the rebels also renewed an agreement that ensures immunity and security for key representatives of the rebels' political wing, the National Democratic Front, so that they can take part in the negotiations.

Its armed faction, the New People's Army (NPA), is now believed to have fewer than 4,000 gunmen, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, when a bloodless revolt ended the 20-year dictatorship of late President Ferdinand Marcos.

In 2002, the US State Department designated the Communist Party and the NPA as terrorist organisations.

Forging peace with the rebels has been the elusive goal of Philippine presidents since a 1986 revolution that toppled Dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The force behind the current talks is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office on June 30 after a landslide election victory.

Hopes for peace deal

On Monday, his government said it hoped to reach a peace accord within a year.

Duterte, who calls himself a Socialist, hails from Mindanao, the impoverished southern third of the Philippines where two rebellions -- Communist and Muslim -- have been most active.

He says ending both insurgencies is vital to his plan to curb poverty. He has even sketched the possibility of forming a coalition government with the rebels.

Philippines communist rebel negotiator Luis Jalandoni (2nd R) signs an indefinite ceasefire agreement with the government at a meeting in Oslo, Norway, August 26, 2016.

Duterte reputedly has close links to the Communists and is a former university student of Jose Maria Sison, now aged 77, who established the party.

The two sides hope to breathe new life into the process by discussing the outstanding issues of social and economic reforms, political and constitutional changes, and an end to hostilities.

Previous peace talks have addressed one issue at a time.

AFP, Reuters