Peace talks with communist rebels resume in Norway

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HOPEFUL Philippine government and communist leaders, along with their Norwegian hosts, pose for a photo at the resumption of peace talks. From left to right: chief Philippine negotiator Silvestre Bello 3rd, exiled Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, Elisabeth Slaattum of the Norwegian Foreign Minister’s Office, Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende, Philippine Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza and National Democratic Front leader Luis Jalandoni. AFP PHOTO

HOPEFUL Philippine government and communist leaders, along with their Norwegian hosts, pose for a photo at the resumption of peace talks. From left to right: chief Philippine negotiator Silvestre Bello 3rd, exiled Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, Elisabeth Slaattum of the Norwegian Foreign Minister’s Office, Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende, Philippine Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza and National Democratic Front leader Luis Jalandoni. AFP PHOTO

OSLO, Norway: The Philippine government on Monday resumed its formal peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF), seeking to forge a political settlement anchored on sweeping social, economic, and political reforms that were deemed crucial in ending Asia’s longest-running insurgency.

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Two Cabinet officials of President Rodrigo Duterte led the five-member government panel that met in Oslo with top leaders of the NDF, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Some of the NDF panel members flew directly from the Philippines immediately after being released from prisons on bail.

“We are all here, in a foreign land, to reignite the lost sparks that were there before as both parties search for political settlement and peace. The last talks were five years ago and in all these peace efforts spanning under six presidencies, we had a breakdown of talks due to preconditions,” said Secretary Jesus Dureza, the presidential peace adviser.

“Why are we here today, doing the same thing and hoping to get the same result? If we look at where we are today, there is a new element: the Duterte presidency. There is also a fresh euphoria among our people about the prospects of peace negotiations,” Dureza added.

Dureza expressed optimism that, unlike in previous negotiations, the new round of talks between the Philippine government and the NDF would succeed this time due to bold steps undertaken by President Duterte to jumpstart the discussions in Oslo.

“We are all witness to how he (Duterte) had taken bold steps, the unprecedented and historic release of our detainees, to make them available to the negotiations. Even the record time facilitation of foreign travel, not even available to ordinary Filipinos, had been made possible to make the NDF personalities available to the negotiating table,” he pointed out.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, concurrent chairman of the government peace panel with the NDF, noted that President Duterte had made the mission of the government panel very clear: help bring peace to the Filipino people.

“There is no giving up on peace work and peace-making knows no limits,” Bello said.

“We can never have a peace agreement if we do not talk. It will take more than one party to make a peace agreement,” he added.

The resumption of the peace negotiations in Oslo has been described as historic as it also served as a venue for the reunion of Filipino rebel leaders who had assumed top positions in the CPP.

For the first time in 30 years, founding CPP chairman Jose Maria Sison huddled under one roof with three other guerrilla leaders who, according to the military, served as party chairmen—Benito Tiamzon, Allan Jazmines, and Rafael Baylosis.

Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, who is said to be the CPP secretary general, were freed on bail only last week and allowed to travel to Oslo to participate in the peace negotiations. Jazmines and Baylosis were also ordered release on bail for the peace talks.

The meeting in Oslo from August 22 to 26 will be the first formal peace talks under the Duterte administration. This comes on the heels of informal talks earlier held in Norway, where the rebels agreed to resume negotiations with the government.

The agenda of the first meeting in Oslo will cover 5 major points: affirmation of previously signed agreements; accelerated process for negotiations, including the timeline for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda for the talks: socioeconomic reforms; political and economic reforms; and end of hostilities and disposition of forces; reconstitution of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) list; amnesty Proclamation for the release of all detained political prisoners, subject to concurrence by Congress; and mode of interim ceasefire.

 

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