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Gov’t, NDFP OK release of captives

Four soldiers and a policeman, four communist rebel consultants and 19 political prisoners are to be released after the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) agreed to resume formal peace negotiations.

The government expects the New People’s Army (NPA) to free at least four soldiers, the government chief negotiator said on Sunday.

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The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, early last month said it had captured five soldiers, whom the rebels considered “prisoners or war.”

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, head of the government peace panel, said he expected the release of the soldiers once the negotiators from both panels returned to Manila from Utrecht in The Netherlands.

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“Actually, that should have happened before we left (Utrecht) but there was a little miscommunication so that did not happen … But when we go back (to Manila), they will give to us the four soldiers and a policeman,” Bello said in a radio interview.

The government and NDFP panels held back-channel meetings on March 10 and 11 in Utrecht, weeks after the collapse of the formal negotiations.

To ensure the full participation of panel members and consultants from both sides, the government committed to release NDFP consultant Ariel Arbitrario, who was arrested at a military checkpoint in Davao City earlier this year after the talks collapsed.

In a joint statement issued by both panels from Utrecht, the government said it would “ensure the safety and liberty of all consultants, as well as undertake the necessary measures, including the extension or reinstatement of bail, as the case may be, and other legal remedies to enable their free and unhindered movement.”

As part of a mechanism for the implementation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig), both parties agreed to reschedule for March 14 the deposit and safekeeping of the reconstituted list and pictures of Jasig holders from the NDFP.

The deposit and safekeeping of the list and pictures of Jasig holders were originally set on Feb. 22 but these were shelved because of the cancellation of the formal talks.

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TAGS: NDFP, NPA captives, Philippine peace talks, political prisoners
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