Norway hosts Philippines peace talks

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Norway is hosting peace talks this week between the government of the Philippines and communist rebels, in a new effort to end their 40-year conflict.

Norwegian deputy foreign minister Espen Barth Eide is hosting the negotiations at a hotel just outside Oslo, where they’ll will run until February 21. Norway has been a guarantor of the peace process since 2001, and from 2004 onwards has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy between the participants in order to finally bring them back together in face-to-face discussions.

The insurgency in the Philippines, which began formally in 1969, has pitted the Filipino regime against rebels including the communist party’s paramilitary wing, known as the New People’s Army (NPA), and the separatists of the Moro National Liberation Front  (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The summit in Norway will involve the government and the political alliance that represents the communist party, the Holland-based National Democratic Front (NDF). This week’s formal discussions come after informal rounds held in Oslo last month – the first since talks broke down in 2004.

“Dialogue is not a sign of weakness. It is a strategy of the brave. It opens doors,” said Barth Eide during an opening press conference, reported by international news agency AFP. Norway’s ambassador to the Philippines, Ture Lundh, added that “we still know that the road to peace is littered with small and large failures.”

The duration of the talks will be conducted behind close doors, and focus on key agrarian socioeconomic reforms of particular interest to the Maoist-influenced communists. Nonetheless, a series of events threatened to disrupt the talks, including the arrest by the Philippines army of an NPA leader, Alan Jasminez, for murder and rebellion, in addition to the capture of a policeman as a “prisoner of war” by the rebels. The NDF said that the arrest of Jasminez in particular would “undermine the peace talks.”

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