By Karen Lema
DAVAO, Philippines (Reuters) – The Philippines and communist guerrillas are planning to each declare ceasefires before formal peace talks resume next month in Norway, the first in 30 years, government and rebels negotiators said on Tuesday.
The Philippines has been talking on and off since 1986 with the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, to end nearly 50 years of conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people.
The process stalled four years ago, when Manila declined to free political prisoners.
“After we resume talks formally, we declare a unilateral ceasefire,” Silvestre Bello, the incoming labor minister and a peace negotiator, told reporters in the southern region of Davao, days after returning from informal talks with exiled rebel leaders in Oslo.
Both sides agreed to resume talks in Norway after the incoming government of Rodrigo Duterte offered to free about 20 jailed rebel negotiators and some ailing political prisoners. Hopes are high that Duterte’s cordial relations with the rebels could bolster any peace deal.
“It is possible we will have a separate but coordinated and simultaneous ceasefire with the government,” Luis Jalandoni, a rebel negotiator, told Reuters by telephone from his base in Utrecht, Netherlands.
“We will still discuss the mode and time-frame of the truce, but we can easily agree to a simultaneous ceasefire.”
Bello said he expected the truce to be in place before Duterte attends a joint session of Congress for his first State of the Nation address on July 25.
The two sides had agreed to a ceasefire in 1986 but it ended two months later when police opened fire at protesting farmers near the presidential palace, killing 13 people.
Bello said a third party, a foreign country, may be asked to monitor the ceasefire implementation.
He said the government expected peace talks to run for nine to 12 months and reach agreement on key economic, social, political and electoral reforms, including land reform and nationalization of some industries.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Writing by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Clarence Fernandez)