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Reds threaten to end truce over military deployment

/ 12:20 AM December 08, 2016

Communist rebels warned President Duterte on Wednesday that they might be forced to end their monthslong ceasefire and resume fighting if he does not suspend the government’s counterinsurgency program and withdraw troops from rebel-influenced areas.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said that if Mr. Duterte fulfills the demands by January and releases remaining political detainees through an amnesty, it can guarantee the ceasefire’s extension, helping to foster peace talks brokered by Norway.

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New People’s Army guerrillas, however, will be forced to engage troops if the President presses the military’s deployment of troops in what the rebels claim as “guerrilla zones” in the countryside, the outlawed party said in a statement.

“He will only have himself to blame if this forces the hand of the Communist Party of the Philippines to terminate its unilateral ceasefire declaration,” it said.

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While no fighting has erupted since both sides declared separate ceasefires in August, the Maoist guerrillas have complained that troops continued to be deployed in rebel areas to carry out surveillance and other counterinsurgency operations in what they say are violations of the government’s own truce.

The military is unlikely to relent to the rebel demands. It has denied rebel allegations that it has violated the government ceasefire by deploying counterinsurgency troops in rural areas where the rebels claim to have influence. Troops deployed in rural areas were either accompanying government workers or helping to carry out rural projects, military officials say.

Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año, a longtime combat intelligence officer who was inaugurated as the new military chief of staff on Wednesday, said the military would support government efforts for the peaceful resolution of armed conflicts.

“But even as we uphold and respect the primacy of peace, make no mistake about it, we shall remain to be a lethal force capable of destroying any threat to our nation,” Año said. “We will not let our people cower in the face of lawlessness and terrorism.”

A students’ group on Wednesday said the Duterte administration’s demand on the rebels to sign a bilateral ceasefire in exchange for the release of political prisoners was an obstacle to the peaceful resolution of the armed conflict.

“By denying the freedom of political prisoners, Mr. Duterte effectively narrows down the path for change and just peace. It is in this sense that the students vehemently condemn his inexcusable resistance to release all the political prisoners in the country,” said JP Rosos, spokesperson for the League of Filipino Students.

Mr. Duterte earlier said the release of the political prisoners was giving too much too early without a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement with the rebels. But he said was ready to free aging and sickly political prisoners.

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Human rights groups say there are about 400 political prisoners nationwide. —WITH REPORTS FROM JOCELYN R. UY AND AP

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TAGS: Ceasefire, Communist Party of the Philippines, Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año, New People’s Army, Philippine news updates, President Duterte
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