Thursday, March 9, 2017

Reds confirm agreement on backchannel talks but stress no ceasefire in place

From InterAksyon (Mar 10): Reds confirm agreement on backchannel talks but stress no ceasefire in place

NDF chief peace negotiator Fidel Agcaoili (file photo by Kodao Productions)

Communist rebels confirmed that there is an agreement with the government to hold backchannel talks despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s termination of formal peace negotiations last month.

At the same time, Fidel Agcaoili, chief peace negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which represents the rebels, stressed that there has been no ceasefire between the New People’s Army and government forces after both sides terminated their respective unilateral declarations early last month.

“Both sides agreed to hold secret backchannel talks as early as the first week of February,” Agcaoili said. “For some reason, these have been delayed till now.”

He also pointed out that the backchannel efforts were not supposed to be made public, stressing that “in this regard, we have kept our end of the bargain not to reveal the plans or issue any statement that would upset these.”

Agcaoili said the aim of the secret talks is to get both sides to meet the April schedule for the fourth round of the stalled formal negotiations, when both sides hope to discuss, among other issues, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, a pact supposed to protect members, consultants and security personnel of both parties’ negotiating teams, and two substantial agenda -- social and economic reforms and constitutional and political reforms.

It was President Rodrigo Duterte who early this week disclosed the backchannel efforts.

And on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, speaking at the National Defense College, said president adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza had left for Europe to lead the government panel to the backchannel talks, according to a report by independent media outfit Kodao Productions.

Kodao also quoted Lorenzana as saying the government had allowed NDFP negotiator Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma and Vicene Ladlad, both rebel consultants, to leave the country as well.

On Thursday, following Wednesday’s ambush in Bansalan, Davao del Sur that left four policemen dead, an angry Duterte ordered the military and police to wage war against the communist rebels and to use aerial rocket strikes against them even if these cause “collateral damage” to non-combatants.

Reacting to this, Agcaoili said, “We still have to confirm if this was done by the NPA command in the area,” even as he pointed out that “there are peace spoilers around.”

He also stressed that “there is no ceasefire in place at the moment, and that AFP and PNP troops have been going into villages and violating people's rights in their combat and intelligence operations, including murderous Tokhang operations,” referring to the controversial government war on drugs.

The rebel negotiator also noted that their ranks have also suffered casualties since hostilities resumed last month, pointing to the four guerrillas slain in San Andres, Quezon province during a military raid on Tuesday, “as well as in other places.”

Agcaoili also said that leadership of the revolutionary movement had already approved on February 27 the release of government personnel captured and held as “prisoners of war” by the rebels and that “discussions have been going on since between third party peace facilitators and the (government) panel.”

In fact, he said, “the POWs should have been released as early as 2 March but arrangements on their safe and orderly release, as well as those of the third party peace facilitators, local government officials, ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) representatives and the custodial forces, have still to be worked out.”

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