ZAMBOANGA CITY: Communist rebels on Wednesday freed two government soldiers they had captured in southern Philippines ahead of peace talks with the government.
The soldiers, Sgt. Solaiman Calocop and Private First Class Samuel Garay, were released near Sultan Kudarat province after 75 days in captivity. Both are members of
39th Infantry Battalion, seized by the New People’s Army (NPA) on February 2.
The two were handed over to the military and were debriefed by the army.
The rebels earlier accused the military of sabotaging the release of the “prisoners of war” by launching offensives against the NPA.
Jorge Madlos, a rebel spokesman, claimed military and police operations impeded the release and put the safety of the prisoners, their families and third-party facilitators at risk.
He said the rebels had planned to release the prisoners on February 18, ahead of Easter. “The military and police, however, have stubbornly refused to heed the clamor for their units to stand down and suspend offensive operations to provide the opportunity for such a turnover,” Madlos said.
“By ordering their troops to continue offensive operations, the officers of the military and police were exhibiting zero concern for the safety and welfare of their men who are in the custody of the NPA as well as for the third-party facilitators who are helping arrange the release of the [prisoners],” he added.
Madlos said the NPA was also set to release three other captured soldiers in Bukidnon province and in the Caraga region.
On Wednesday, members of the government’s peace panel met to discuss agrarian reform issues that may be tackled when they meet the National Democratic Front (NDF) panel.
Roberto Ador, head of the government panel on Comprehensive Agreement on Socio Economic Reforms (CASER), said they focused on contentious issues that were raised during the previous rounds of peace talks.
“During the last two rounds, both parties agreed on principle for the distribution of land. We still have to tackle particular issues under agrarian reform,” Ador told reporters.
Hernani Braganza, a member of the panel, said the problem on land distribution has “plagued the country” since 1972.
The problem, he added, “lies solely” on the distribution of private agricultural land planted with corn and rice.
The result of the meeting in the country will be elevated to the reciprocal working committee of both parties chaired by Ador.
Ador explained that every topic under the socioeconomic reform agenda will have separate bilateral agreements.