MANILA, Philippines ? Peace talks aimed at ending the 40-year Maoist armed rebellion in the Philippines are to resume in Norway next month after a four-year hiatus, the government's chief negotiator said Thursday.
The prospects of finally signing an agreement with the insurgents "are very good," said presidential adviser on peace process Avelino Razon.
Leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed unit, the New People's Army (NPA), who are directly involved in the talks, would be immune from arrest on Philippine territory starting Friday, he told a public forum.
This would allow members of the CPP-NPA and its political wing, the National Democratic Front "to prepare for the resumption of the formal peace negotiations, which is set in August this year in Oslo."
A senior Razon aide said the official may meet with communist negotiator Luis Jalandoni before then. The rebel leader arrived earlier this week in Manila from his Dutch exile.
"The list covers 96 names, including Jalandoni and other consultants and peace negotiators of the insurgents," Razon told Agence France-Presse.
He said arrest warrants against them would be lifted from Friday and for the entire duration of the talks.
"They are free from arrest [during] peace talks," Razon said. However, they can still be arrested if they commit common crimes like robbery or murder, or offences not covered by a so-called "joint immunity and safety agreement" signed previously by both sides.
The NPA, whose membership ballooned to more than 26,000 in the mid-1980s, has dwindled to 5,000 armed members, according to military estimates.
Razon said Oslo had brokered the resumption of peace talks.
Norway had previously hosted the negotiations until they were suspended four years ago after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo refused communist demands that she ask western governments to cancel the rebels' designation as "terrorists".
Many of the communists' top leaders, including Jalandoni, live in exile in the Netherlands.
Their designation as "terrorists" on international lists led to the freezing of their assets and bank accounts, including those held by Jose Maria Sison, the group's exiled leader who is based in the Dutch city of Utrecht.