The Philippine government and communist rebels will declare a seven-day cease-fire when they resume negotiations next week aimed at ending one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies, the chief government negotiator said Friday.
The talks will be the start of a series of discussions on economic and political reforms to end the hostilities, said Alexander Padilla, who heads the government peace panel.
The talks brokered by Norway will be held in Oslo on Feb. 15-21 and will be the first formal negotiations since they collapsed more than six years ago, Padilla said.
Padilla and negotiators from the Marxist umbrella, National Democratic Front, which represents the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, held meetings last month in Oslo to prepare for the formal talks.
In a statement, Padilla said his “most optimistic projection” is that the negotiations can be completed in 18 months and peace achieved in three years if both sides are focused and sincere.
“Our goal is to reach a just and equitable peace settlement ... and put an end to one of the most protracted armed conflicts in this part of the world,” he said.
It will be the first time since the on-and-off talks opened 25 years ago that the rebels have agreed to a cease-fire while negotiations are being held.
The cease-fire is “a test of sincerity” and “enhances the atmosphere of goodwill on both sides in the eyes of the public,” said former congressman Satur Ocampo, who led the rebel panel in the first peace talks in 1986 following the ouster of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The rebels withdrew from negotiations in 2004 after accusing the government of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of instigating the inclusion of the Communist Party and its armed wing in U.S. and European lists of terrorist organizations.
They agreed to resume negotiations under Arroyo’s successor Benigno Aquino III, who took office in June.
Padilla said the two sides have also agreed on a “side-table mechanism” to deal with other important issues not covered by the substantive agenda, which could include the rebels’ demand for the release from jail of some key leaders they have said should not have been arrested because they were consultants in the talks.