Tue, Aug 11, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Philippines frees two rebels to revive peace talks

AP , MANILA

The Philippine government has agreed to free at least two communist guerrillas and pledged not to arrest two others in an effort to revive long-stalled peace talks aimed at ending a bloody 40-year rebellion, an official said yesterday.

The concession was made to allow the four guerrillas to join peace talks that will resume on Aug. 28 in Norway, presidential peace process adviser Avelino Razon Jr said.

One of the suspected rebels, Elizabeth Principe, has been freed and another, Randal Echanis, may be released from detention soon, Razon said.

Two other communists at large but facing criminal charges — Vicente Ladlad and Rafael Baylosis — will not be arrested while involved in the talks, Razon said. They are among 87 rebel consultants in the peace process.

“We’re giving peace a chance,” Razon said.

Peace negotiations collapsed in 2004 after the communist New People’s Army blamed the Philippine government for its inclusion on US and European lists of terrorist organizations.

The rural-based communist rebellion, one of Asia’s longest, has claimed about 120,000 lives and has been blamed by the government for stunting economic growth. Rebel assaults have continued despite efforts to revive the Norwegian-brokered talks.

In the most recent attack, communist rebels stormed a military outpost in southern Davao del Norte {rovince at the weekend, seizing several assault firearms. They briefly held four people, including a soldier, to cover their escape and later freed the hostages unharmed, army spokeswoman Captain Rosa Maria Cristina Manuel said.

The renewed peace negotiations are expected to focus on rebel demands for social and economic reforms, rebel negotiator Luis Jalandoni said.

The broad agenda will include land reform, the country’s huge foreign debt, good governance, official corruption and alleged human rights violations by government forces, he said.

The rebels will also likely press a long-standing demand for the release of dozens of other political detainees, Jalandoni said by telephone from the Netherlands, where he lives in exile.

The 120,000-strong military has been carrying out sporadic offensives aimed at crushing the insurgency before Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo steps down in June next year.

The guerrilla force reached a peak of about 25,000 fighters in the middle 1980s during the time of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Only 4,874 communist guerrillas remained as of May, down from 5,239 at the end of last year, the military said.

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