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Rebel leaders freed ahead of negotiations

Manila (UCAN): “There should no longer be any doubt that President Rodrigo Duterte is serious and determined to find a peaceful solution to the decades old communist insurgency,” the peace adviser of the Philippine government, Jesus Dureza, said after 17 Communist rebel leaders were released from prison on August 19 prior to peace negotiations aimed at ending almost five decades of conflict.

The Philippine government and the communist-led National Democratic Front of The Philippines are set to open formal talks in Oslo, Norway, on August 22.

Benito Tiamzon, reportedly the chairperson of the Communist Party of The Philippines, and his wife, Wilma, the secretary-general, were among the highest-ranking rebel leaders released.

“With their release, one more stumbling block is removed. We are looking forward to fruitful, but intense negotiations in Oslo,” Dureza said.

“Victory is so sweet, so sublime. It was a long, intense and arduous journey,” one of their lawyers, Edre Olalia, said of their release. 

“They will join the others so far released at the peace talks in Oslo,” he said.

As a goodwill gesture, the New People’s Army announced it would also release some of its prisoners of war.

Fidel Agcaoili, the chief rebel negotiator, said that a unit in Mindanao is working on the release of several government soldiers captured by the guerrillas.

“An orderly and safe turnover of the prisoners of war may be conducted pending a government undertaking of suspension of military and police offensives,” a statement from the group says.

Peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Democratic Front were suspended in 2012 due to several disagreements topped by the arrests and detention of rebel leaders and peace consultants.

Duterte has ordered the Bureau of Immigration and the Department of Foreign Affairs to assist in providing travel documents to 22 rebel peace consultants, including the Tiamzons.

Dureza explained that the government wants to expedite the peace process by simultaneously holding negotiations on five major agenda items.

He said reciprocal working groups would be formed to discuss the issues of social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, an end to hostilities and disposition of forces, ceasefire, joint security and immunity, and release of political detainees.

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