The leader of the Philippines’ communist insurgency said Thursday he expects to end nearly 30 years in exile by returning from Europe to Manila as early as next month.
While running for office last month, Rodrigo Duterte, now the newly elected president, said Jose Maria Sison, the rebel leader and Communist Party of the Philippines founder, would be welcome to return home to participate in peace talks.
The comments raised hopes of ending the 47-year-old insurgency, one of Asia’s longest, which has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives since the 1960s.
“I want to visit (Manila) in July or August to hold serious talks with President Duterte,” said Sison, who now styles himself as a consultant for the rebels’ negotiating body, the National Democratic Front.
Sison, speaking to Manila reporters at a news conference via Skype, added that Philippine government and rebel emissaries were set to meet in Norway from mid-June to lay the groundwork for formal peace talks.
Sison, now 77, fled to Europe soon after Philippine peace talks failed in 1987 and has stayed abroad since, while the insurgency continued to claim thousands of lives.
Duterte has maintained ties with Sison, his former university professor, while the latter has lived in exile in the Netherlands.
Sison said his homecoming was contingent on the Oslo talks producing a ceasefire, as well as Duterte releasing jailed comrades, which the rebel group said currently numbered 543.
Duterte, 71, whose government will officially begin its term on June 30, has named two allies of the rebel group as prospective members of his cabinet, and pledged to free ailing or ageing communist rebels ahead of formal peace talks.
Sison warned the rebels will continue their attacks against government forces until a ceasefire is struck.
The communists’ armed wing, the New People’s Army, is believed to have fewer than 4,000 gunmen, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, according to the military. (AFP)