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GRP, NDF resume peace talks

Despite the blood spilled in nearly a month after both sides called off their respective ceasefires, the Philippine Government (GRP) and National Democratic Front (NDF) agreed Saturday night (Manila time), in Utrecht, The Netherlands, to return to the negotiation table and talk peace anew in a bid to put an end to 49 years of armed conflict.

At the focal point of the informal talks was the agreement to “reinstate their respective unilateral ceasefires, which shall take effect before the scheduled fourth round of talks in April in Oslo, Norway.”

The agreement added that the unilateral ceasefires will take effect “as soon as their respective forces shall have been informed.”

The Communist rebels had withdrawn their unilateral ceasefire last February 10, while President Duterte followed suit with the government’s own lifting of the truce after New People’s Army (NPA) rebels began stepping up attacks on military and police personnel.

The two parties also stated that they will “forge an interim bilateral ceasefire agreement which shall take effect after the terms of reference and other considerations shall have been settled.”

According to the statement, these “considerations” will take into consideration “the issues and concerns raised in the previous six-month unilateral ceasefires” of each side which took effect from August 2016 to February 2017.

The agreement was hammered out in Utrecht, The Netherlands at around 11 p.m. Saturday (Manila time) where the GRP Peace Panel, composed of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, GRP Peace Panel Chair Silvestre Bello III, GRP Peace Panel Member Hernani Braganza and consultants Efren Moncupa and Pancho Lara held informal negotiations, usually referred to as “backchannel talks,” with their NDF counterparts.

Signing for the NDF were Peace Panel Chairman Fidel Agcaoili, Peace Panel Member Benito Tiamzon, NDF Senior Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison, Chairperson of the Reciprocal Working Group on the Cessation of Hostilities and Disposition of Foreces Wilma Austria Tiamzon, and consultant Vicente Ladlad.

Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum of the Third Party Negotiator Royal Norwegian Government also signed the statement.

Under the agreement, the government also agreed to release an NDF consultant who was re-arrested when the unilateral ceasefires were withdrawn.

The statement also said that, as per the agreement in the Rome formal talks last January, the government “shall ensure the participation of four detained consultants in the fourth round of talks.”

“The GRP shall also work for the release of 19 political prisoners based on humanitarian grounds on or before the next round of talks (on April 2),” it said.

However, the agreement may come short of Duterte’s conditions to withdraw his orders for an all – out war against the Communist insurgents.

The President had said that he will only allow the resumption of the talks if the NPA will release all the military and police personnel it is holding, that the insurgents desist from burning assets of extortion victims, installing landmines, and demanding for revolutionary tax.

Nevertheless, in a message from Utrecht, Dureza said that he has already talked to Duterte about the joint statement and that the President had given them the go-signal to forge the deal. (ROCKY NAZARENO)