‘Breakthrough’ in Philippines talks

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Norwegian negotiators were reporting a “breakthrough” on Tuesday after a week of peace talks between the two sides of the Philippines’ 40-year-long internal strife.  They reportedly made significant progress in negotiations held in Asker, just outside of Oslo.

The talks were the first formal negotiations between the government of the Philippines and representatives of communist rebels since negotiations broke down in 2004. The two sides have agreed to a “road map” to peace by June 2012.

Communications following the meetings, held behind closed doors in the coastal community of Nesbru,  confirmed that a further peace submit has been scheduled for April and every two months from then on as part of the road map.

Ceasefire helped, caution remains
Norway’s ambassador to the Philippines, Ture Lundh, claimed the process had been a “success,” telling German press agency DPA that the negotiators “are really ambitious in taking further steps to get this peace process going and moving in the right direction.” Both sides credited a ceasefire that lasted during the talks as a move that built confidence among negotiators. The freeing of a captured policeman and soldier by the rebels – along with promises of a further release – also improved the prospects for progress. Nonetheless, trust between the groups remained low, and both were cautious in their statements following the close of the talks.

“Tonight finds us on the zigzag path to peace, but we have taken the first step,” one government representative, Alexander Padilla, told the Associated Press (AP) on Monday evening after the talks ended. A rebel spokesperson, Luis Jalandoni, said that right up to the end of the talks, “no one could be quite sure whether the talks would end up on a high or a low point,” adding that a “just and lasting peace” would require long-standing socioeconomic concerns of the Maoists to be addressed.

Such issues are to be addressed as part of the completion of the draft Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, which the road map suggests could be signed by both groups in September. The negotiators aim to complete and sign a further draft Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms by February 2012, and have also reactivated a Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) on the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. These series of conventions will hopefully lead to the final Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces in June 2012.

Norway a guarantor
The insurgency in the Philippines, which began formally in 1969, has pitted the government 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 involved the government and the political alliance that represents the communist party, the Holland-based National Democratic Front (NDF).

The past week’s formal discussions came after informal rounds held in Oslo in January, the first since talks broke down in 2004, when the Maoist revolutionaries believed that the regime of then-President Arroyo had secured their place on the official terror organizations’ lists operated by the EU and the US.

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.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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