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Philippines wants rebels 'encamped' in fixed areas for talks

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte holds an Israeli-made Galil rifle at Camp Crame in suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines, on April 19, 2018.

BULLIT MARQUEZ/AP

By JIM GOMEZ | Associated Press | Published: July 5, 2018

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government will demand that peace talks with communist rebels shift from Europe to the Philippines and the insurgents are encamped in designated areas during the negotiations to peacefully settle one of Asia's longest-raging insurgencies.

Presidential adviser Jesus Dureza said Thursday that New People's Army guerrillas would also be asked to stop collecting so-called "revolutionary tax" from companies and demanding to be part of a future coalition government.

President Rodrigo Duterte's conditions were finalized in a meeting with top military and police officials late Wednesday. They're seen as likely to be rejected by the guerrillas, who fear that holding talks in Manila would expose them — including their Europe-exiled leaders — to military surveillance and harassment.

The low-level, rural-based rebellion, which has raged since 1969, has left about 40,000 combatants and civilians dead, hampered security and economic development in the impoverished countryside for nearly half a century. The military estimates that about 3,900 Marxist insurgents continue to wage the insurgency.

"The doors for the resumption of peace talks ... are still open," Dureza said in a statement.

Dureza said the president still wishes Norway to continue brokering the broader talks, but added that "in the meantime, localized peace arrangements may be pursued by the local government units with the insurgents."

When he took power in 2016, Duterte resumed peace talks with the rebels but canceled them last year to protest continued guerrilla attacks on troops. He also signed an order declaring the rebel group a terrorist organization, a label the insurgents have opposed. The United States has also designated the rebels as terrorists.

After preliminary talks, both sides agreed to a new temporary cease-fire on June 21, with peace talks to resume a few days later in Norway, which has been brokering the decades-long negotiations. But Duterte delayed the resumption indefinitely to allow public consultations, antagonizing the guerrillas.

Last week, communist rebel leader Jose Maria Sison, who founded the Communist Party of the Philippines and is based in the Netherlands, said the insurgents can no longer hold peace talks with Duterte's administration and that it is better to help oust him and negotiate with his successor. Other rebels, however, said that Sison's recommendation would still have to be approved by other guerrilla leaders.

The volatile Philippine president shrugged off Sison's threat and said he was ready to continue fighting the insurgents. "If they're not willing to talk to me, that's fine. I have no problem so we continue with the war. Anyway, we've been there for 50 years," Duterte told reporters.

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