Optimism high as peace talks begin

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Oslo’s historic Holmenkollen Park Hotel, perched on a cool and airy hillside above the Norwegian capital, could hardly seem farther from the heated conficts that have enveloped the Philippines for decades. That may make it the perfect place for negotiators to air thoughts and finally broker peace among rival factions in a turbulent country on the other side of the globe.

Oslo's Holmenkollen Park Hotel was the site of peace talks that resumed Monday between the Philippines government and the country's communist movement NDFP. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Oslo’s Holmenkollen Park Hotel was the site of peace talks that resumed Monday between the Philippines government and the country’s communist movement NDFP. PHOTO: Wikipedia

“We have an international responsibility to bring an end to the conflict in the Philippines,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) as he took on the role as host for representatives from the Philippines’ government and the communist movement NDFP (National Democratic Front of the Philippines). There are also hopes that the negotiations can lead to peace with Islamic insurgents as well.

Norway, which has a long if rocky history as a peace broker, has taken on the role of facilitator in the Philippines peace process. Efforts have gone on for years and on Monday morning, Brende could oversee opening ceremonies at Holmenkollen Park Hotel as peace talks resumed. They’re beginning this time, however, on the promising foundation of a ceasefire and the release from prisons of communist leaders who were sent to Oslo to take part in the talks.

“I think we can expect quite tough discussions, but that’s the way it is,” Brende told NRK. “It will be a roller-coaster, like all peace talks are.” While Norway has a spotty history of peace-broking success, Brende was clearly buoyed by recent breakthroughs in Colombia.

Filipino officials on both sides were optimistic as well. “I have never been so optimistic than now,” the Philippines’ “peace minister” Jesus Dureza told NRK after he and embassy officials met with Brende at Norway’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday. He said that was because the Philippines’ new president, Rodrigo Duterte, “has taken a very strong position” on further the peace process. “He’d like to see this through,” Dureza said.

The conflict between the Filipino government and the NDFP has been going on for 47 years, during which thousands of people have been killed. Duterte wants to end the conflicts both with the Islamic and communist insurgents, releasing the communist leaders and naming four communist ministers to his new government. The talks in Oslo, climaxing years of shuttle diplomacy that stretch back to 2001, will center on the ceasefire, release of prisoners and a timeline for further negotiations.

“Now we’re on the verge of a milestone,” Dureza told NRK, “and I don’t think we could have reaced this particular stage were it not for the strong support from Norway.” Brende said Norway was putting heavy emphasis on contributing to the peace process.

“Both sides (the government and NDFP) have expressed a strong wish to reach a solution to this lengthy confict,” Brende said. “They have stretched themselves far as well, so that this round of negotiations can take place. It’s therefore extremely positive that this formal talks are now resuming.”

It’s been five years since the last round. It remained unclear whether the talks would have any effect, meanwhile, on the status of a Norwegian hostage who’s still being held by the Islamic insurgent group Abu Sayaf. That’s a separate conflict, but also one that Duterte wants to end.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund