RP gov’t, rebels to reopen talks

MANILA, Philippines, AP

The Philippine government and communist rebels announced Saturday they will resume formal peace negotiations next month.

In a joint statement from the Dutch city of Utrecht, the Marxist umbrella group, the National Democratic Front, and the government peace panel said the talks would be formally reopened April 27 in a “mutually acceptable foreign neutral venue.”

The agreement to resume the talks after a break of nearly two years followed meetings March 6-9 between the government and NDF teams in Utrecht and The Hague, the statement said.

The two sides also declared “firm adherence” to address the “roots of the armed conflict” through peace negotiations. They also upheld several earlier agreements, including safety guarantees for the rebel peace panel, and agreed to implement an accord on human rights and international humanitarian law.

They also agreed to undertake “goodwill and confidence building measures” to enhance the atmosphere for the talks, and the government will take steps to speed up the release of political prisoners, the statement said.

The rebels earlier committed to free an army officer, Maj. Noel Buan, who has been held captive since July 1999.

The rebels pulled out of talks nearly two years ago after the Senate approved an agreement allowing the resumption of large-scale U.S. military exercises in the Philippines.

On Friday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered a one-month cease-fire with communist rebels in 11 provinces on the main island of Luzon for the safe release of Buan and after a gunbattle between guerrillas and soldiers.

Chief Inspector Abelardo Martin, police chief of Dolores in Quezon province who was seized in November 1999, bled to death Thursday from wounds he sustained following the gunbattle.

In a statement Saturday, the communist New People’s Army, blamed the death of Martin on an alleged botched rescue attempt by soldiers. The military said the gunbattle was the result of a “chance encounter” between the rebels and an army patrol.