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Asia

Philippines government and communist NDF hold peace talks after six years

Formal talks in Oslo, the first since August 2004, are not expected to produce immediate results to end one of Asia's longest running insurgencies that has claimed over 40,000 lives.

The government and communist NDF to hold peace talks after six years

The government and communist NDF to hold peace talks after six years

As formal peace talks resumed in the Norwegian capital Oslo on Tuesday, communist rebels in the Philippines have demanded the release of one of their leaders.

Alan Jazmines was detained in a raid on a rebel hideout north of Manila on Monday, hours before the start of a seven-day ceasefire between the government and the New People's Army (NPA).

Luis Jalandoni, the rebels' chief negotiator said in a statement that "the arrest of Jazmines is an attempt by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police to disrupt the peace negotiations."

Jalandoni said it is "imperative" that Jazmines be released "immediately and unconditionally so that there will be no disruption of the formal peace talks."

The talks, the first since August 2004, are not expected to produce immediate results to end the decades long insurgency but both sides could agree to more negotiations and prolong a ceasefire.

The talks were agreed at the preliminary discussions in Norway in January with the aim of ending the decades-long communist rebellion within the next three years. Successive leaders have pursued peace talks with the communist National Democratic Front, who have been waging a rebellion since 1969. But all efforts so far have failed.

Luis Jalandoni said both sides agree that there is a need for urgent social and economic reforms.

"Both sides agree that this new government is different from that of the Arroyo regime which committed so many human rights violations."

President Benigno Aquino's government is seen as different from that of the Arroyo regime which committed many human rights violations

President Benigno Aquino's government is seen as different from that of the Arroyo regime which committed many human rights violations

Addressing the causes of the insurgency which has been going on for 41 years is essential for the success of the talks. "We think addressing the roots of the conflict through social and economic reforms and also political reforms that will benefit the people will be very crucial," said Jalandoni, "together with the compliance and implementation of human rights and international humanitarian law."

Political reforms crucial for success of peace talks

The last round of negotiations in 2004, under the then President Gloria Arroyo, collapsed amid NDF demands that the communists be removed from international terrorist lists.

Political analyst and executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, Ramon Casiple, said there is a sense of optimism and openness on both sides.

Both sides agree that violence like the recent communist attacks in a province in southern Philippines that led to civilian casualties should not derail the talks.

"The agreement was basically to continue talks and for both sides to refrain from injecting new elements into the talks, including developments such as ambushes or extrajudicial killings," Casiple explained.

A certain amount of violence is likely to continue even as the talks take place

A certain amount of violence is likely to continue even as the talks take place

However, there is a consensus that a certain amount of violence is likely to continue. There are monitors designated by both sides, who will meet to agree upon the mechanisms for handling violations.

Differences in economic policy

Differences, especially in President Benigno Aquino's market-oriented economic policy, are also likely to become a contentious issue. Casiple says it is less likely that the government will radically change its economic policy.

"The more important points that I think the government will stress are the political reforms and integrating the rebels to participate in the democratic exercises," Casiple pointed out. "The most that the government will do is to let it be a subject matter that would be basically brought up before the entire people rather than addressing it directly as part of the peace talks."

But NDF's Jalandoni said the rebels are determined to work on economic policies as well.

Analysts say differences in the government's market-oriented economic policy will be a contentious issue during the talks

Analysts say differences in the government's market-oriented economic policy will be a contentious issue during the talks

"We think it’s quite possible especially with the crisis affecting the Philippines and the world. There is an urgent need to do this," said Jalandoni. "If both sides work on it with political will, it is possible. But it will not be easy."

In recent days there has been a thawing of relations, with the Philippines government agreeing to release a dozen Maoist leaders as goodwill to lay the foundations for negotiations.

Goodwill on both sides to strike a peace deal

Philippines government has agreed to release a dozen Maoist leaders as goodwill to lay the foundations for negotiations

Philippines government has agreed to release a dozen Maoist leaders as goodwill to lay the foundations for negotiations

Casiple said depending on how far the two sides agree on the political side and if "an agreement can be reached in political participation of the rebels," then he sees a "50-50 chance" that a peace deal will be the outcome.

"If there is an obstacle that cannot be overcome at the political reform level then it would be very hard to proceed to the other parts of the agenda," Casiple added. "Basically the hinge upon which the entire peace talks is based is on the political agenda of the peace talks."

Both sides have agreed to observe a ceasefire during the weeklong talks that begin on Tuesday. Overseas Filipinos, who comprise about nine million people, also look forward to successful talks so that they can return to the Philippines and contribute their skills to building the country.

Author: Sherpem Sherpa
Editor: Sarah Berning

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