Philippine authorities release communist leaders from jail in a dramatic move aimed at ending one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies, with peace talks to resume in Norway next week. Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma Tiamzon say they have high hopes of lasting peace after they posted bail and stepped out of police cells in Manila.
Top Philippine rebels freed for Norway peace talks
Philippines-unrest-communist-peace Top Philippine rebels freed for Norway peace talks =(PICTURE)= MANILA, Aug 19, 2016 (AFP) – Philippine authorities released jailed communist leaders on Friday in a dramatic move aimed at ending one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies, with peace talks to resume in Norway next week. Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma raised clenched fists, hugged friends and supporters and said they have high hopes of lasting peace after they posted bail and stepped out of police cells in Manila. Security officials allege the couple, arrested more than two years ago, ran the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New People’s Army, whose 47-year campaign has claimed about 30,000 lives. “Our release is a goodwill measure that will create an atmosphere conducive for peace talks,” Benito Tiamzon said, thanking President Rodrigo Duterte for ordering state prosecutors to stop blocking bail petitions of the 17 rebels who were provisionally freed this week. They hope to fly to Oslo for the August 22-26 negotiations, to serve as consultants for the rebels’ political organisation the National Democratic Front. Norway has acted as an intermediary in the talks. The negotiations stalled in 2013 under Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino after he rejected the communists’ demand to free all imprisoned guerrillas. The 65-year-old rebel chief said they saw the fiery outsider Duterte’s landslide election victory in May as the rebels’ best chance at a political settlement with the government after 30 years of peace talks. The rebel army is believed to have fewer than 4,000 gunmen left, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, when a bloodless “People Power” revolt ended the 20-year dictatorship of the late president Ferdinand Marcos. Many of their top cadres are in their 70s or 60s, some living in exile in Europe. But the movement retains support among the deeply poor in rural areas, and its forces regularly kill police or troops while extorting money from local businesses. “We’re confident the peace talks would move forward because we believe this is the first president who really desires meaningful reforms and has enough determination to see them through,” Benito Tiamzon said. “We would like to make use of the peace talks to determine how much reform can be undertaken.” Duterte had enjoyed relatively good ties with guerrillas operating around Davao, the southern city which he led as mayor for more than 20 years before running for president. A self-described socialist, the 71-year-old has since named two left-leaning personalities into his cabinet and even initially vowed to form a coalition government with the rebels should the peace talks succeed. He previously got the rebels to help his government kill drug dealers in a deadly crackdown that has left more than 1,500 people dead. Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire last month, telling soldiers and police to stop operations against leftist guerrillas. But he withdrew the ceasefire just five days later when a rebel ambush killed a government militia member and wounded four others. Since then the communist party has denounced the anti-crime crackdown as well as Duterte’s plans to allow Marcos’ corpse to be transferred to Manila’s National Heroes’ Cemetery. The rebel chief conceded there have been a few “challenges” in the past few weeks but remained sanguine. “We would not be surprised if there would be more twists to come, but we are optimistic that both sides have enough will to surmount these obstacles.” Among the top agenda items on Monday is a possible ceasefire, he said, declining to provide details. cgm/ajm