Philippines eyes peace talks anew with Reds

Posted at 02/22/14 12:04 AM

MANILA - The Philippines is working with the Norwegian government on the possibility of reopening peace talks with communist insurgents, barely a year after negotiations collapsed, officials said Friday.

The administration has been engaged in on-and-off peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) since the 1980s but the talks have repeatedly stalled due to what the government says are conditions imposed by the rebels.

Norway had served as a facilitator in the talks between the two sides, but the most recent attempt at an striking an accord ended with the Philippines declaring negotiations had collapsed in April 2013.

Chief government peace adviser Teresita Deles said Friday she has had discussions with the Norwegian government on ways to move the situation with the communists forward.

She also said the Philippines' was looking into reports that CPP founder Jose Maria Sison had expressed willingness to meet with President Benigno Aquino.

"The offer to talk to the president is a new element at this time. The last we heard they were calling on all Filipinos to oust the president," Deles said.

She said the government wanted to ensure that if the talks resume, "it will be based on a platform that has the possibility of reaching a successful conclusion."

Aquino had set a target of ending the decades-long insurgency by the 2016 -- the end of his term in his office.

The breakdown in talks last year was a setback but in January Aquino asked Norway to help revive negotiations.

His spokesman Herminio Coloma said: "Now they are saying they are ready to talk. So that is what we are looking into with the assistance of the Norwegian facilitator."

Asked if the government could still trust that the rebels were sincere in reopening talks, Coloma said: "let's just say we are keeping an open mind about it."

The government estimates that the armed insurgency has claimed about 30,000 lives since it began in 1969 in a guerrilla campaign to overthrow the government and establish a Maoist regime.

However the military says its guerrilla arm is down to about 4,000 fighters from more than 26,000 in the late 1980s.

The rebels remain active in the hinterlands of the Philippine archipelago, attacking the military and police as well as rural businesses that resist their extortion demands.

Peace negotiations with the country's main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have been more successful and both the MILF and the government hope to soon sign a final peace deal to end decades of fighting after clearing the last hurdle in 18 years of negotiations.