PH rebels to discuss peace talks with new government
MANILA, Philippines — Philippine communist rebels said Thursday that long-stalled peace talks could be resumed with the government of incoming President Rodrigo Duterte as early as July, and that they will demand an end to the U.S. military presence in the country.
Rebel negotiator Fidel Agcaoili told a rare news conference in Manila that the demand “is non-negotiable.” He said government and rebel negotiators are preparing to meet in Europe this month to discuss the resumption of talks, which have been stalled for years.
Duterte, who takes office June 30, has offered two Cabinet posts to allies of the rebels, who in turn have freed kidnapped policemen to encourage the resumption of talks.
“We have always stood on the basis of principled self-respect and national sovereignty,” Agcaoili said. “We cannot allow the presence of U.S. military bases here.”
A Visiting Forces Agreement which took effect in 1999 allowed American forces to return to the Philippines for largescale combat exercises nearly a decade after the closure of sprawling U.S. military bases in the country. A related pact signed in 2014, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, grants American forces, warships and fighter jets access to five Philippine military camps, where they can erect buildings and other military facilities.
The accords have helped the U.S. reassert its presence in Asia, which dovetails with Philippine hopes for American help in countering China’s increasingly assertive claims to areas of the South China Sea also claimed by the Philippines.
Agcaoili said the rebels’ demands also include a land reform program that would free farmers from decades of poverty and a national industrialization effort that is not dependent on Western governments or multinational corporations.
The rebels have been fighting for a Marxist state since 1969 in one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies. They have accused successive Philippine administrations of subservience to U.S. interests and failing to ease poverty. Their numbers have dwindled to a few thousand amid battle setbacks, surrenders and factionalism, although they remain the country’s foremost security concern.
Norwegian-brokered peace talks stalled early in outgoing President Benigno Aquino III’s six-year term because of a dispute over the release of several rebels. TVJ
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