OSLO -- The Philippine government and Communist guerrillas have agreed an indefinite extension to a ceasefire to facilitate talks on a peace deal, Norway, which is playing the role of intermediary, announced Friday.
“Representatives of the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) Communist movement will sign on Friday August 26, at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT), a joint declaration in which the two sides commit to unilateral ceasefires without a limitation in time,” the Norwegian foreign ministry said.
Norway is playing the role of go-between in the talks in Oslo, which resumed on Monday.
As a prelude, the two sides had each agreed to a ceasefire, but the truce commitment by the Communist side was due to end on Saturday.
At stake is the aim of ending one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies.
The Communist Party of the Philippines launched a rebellion in 1968 that has so far claimed the lives of 30,000 people, according to official estimates.
Its armed faction, the New People’s Army (NPA), is now believed to have fewer than 4,000 gunmen, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, when a bloodless revolt ended the 20-year dictatorship of late President Ferdinand Marcos.
They remain particularly active in rural areas, where they are notorious for extorting money from local businesses. They also regularly attack police and military forces, sometimes targeting them in urban areas.
In 2002, the US State Department designated the Communist Party and the NPA foreign terrorist organizations.
Forging peace with the rebels has been the elusive goal of Philippine presidents since the 1986 “People Power” revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The force behind the current talks is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office on June 30 after a landslide election victory.
On Monday, his government said it hoped to reach a peace accord within a year.
Duterte, who calls himself a Socialist, hails from Mindanao, the impoverished southern third of the Philippines where two rebellions — Communist and Muslim — have been most active.
He says ending both insurgencies is vital to his plan to curb poverty. He has even sketched the possibility of forming a coalition government with the rebels.
Duterte reputedly has close links to the Communists and is a former university student of Jose Maria Sison, now aged 77, who established the party.
The two sides hope to breathe new life into the process by discussing simultaneously the outstanding issues of social and economic reforms, political and constitutional changes, and an end to hostilities.
Previous peace talks have addressed one issue at a time.