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NPA ends ceasefire but says talks should continue

MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – The communist New People's Army (NPA) declared on Wednesday, February 1, that it is terminating its 5-month-old ceasefire with the Philippine government following a series of fatal skirmishes with the military. (READ: Soldiers report skirmishes with NPA in 7 areas)

"The August 28, 2016, unilateral declaration of interim ceasefire issued by the Central Committee of the CPP (CPP-CC) and the National Operations Command of the New People’s Army (NPA-NOC) is hereby terminated," NPA spokesperson Jorge "Ka Oris" Madlos said in a statement.

"The Negotiating Panel of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) shall be given notice today of this termination by the Negotiating Panel of the National Democratic Front (NDFP)," the statement added.

The ceasefire termination will take effect after 10 days or on February 10.

The NPA, the armed wing of the CPP, ordered its units to "take full initiative in planning, coordinating and carrying out military campaigns and tactical offensives" against state forces, paramilitary groups, and people involved in illegal drugs and illegal gambling, among others. 

The NPA cited the alleged ceasefire abuses by the miiltary and the delayed release of political prisoners as reasons for terminating the ceasefire.

The NDF had previously warned that it was inclined to end the ceasefire but the government panel believed it had averted this threat when the National Democratic Front (NDF) – the group representing the rebels in talks with governmetn – agreed to hold a side meeting in February to discuss the possibility of a bilateral ceasefire agreement. (READ: PH, NDF talks make significant headway despite clashes)

Government continues ceasefire

President Rodrigo Duterte's chief peace adviser Jesus Dureza said he is "dismayed" with the NPA's decision, citing progress in the talks. 

But he said he and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenza agreed to recommend to Duterte the continuation of the government ceasefire. (READ: Dureza wants Duterte to maintain government ceasefire with NPA)

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines will not actively operate against the NPA while our ceasefire is in place," Lorenzana said in a statement. But he said the military will run after NPA rebels if they are involved in lawless activities and will not hesitate to operate in areas that the rebel group claims to be under its control.

"Government security forces will continue to maintain peace and order and run after lawless elements whoever and wherever they are," Lorenzana said.

"We emphasize that we do not recognize the NPA's claims to areas which they believe are under their control and our forces are ready to defend themselves when attacked," said Lorenzana. 

This was the debate in the aftermath of the incident in Makilala, North Cotabato on January 23 that killed one communist rebel. It was the first firefight to disrupt the 5-month-old ceasefire. 

'Talks should continue'

The armed group responsible for Asia's longest running communist insurgency said peace talks should continue even as fighting resumes on the ground. 

"In our experience and in the experience of other peoples, it is possible to negotiate while fighting until the substantive agreements are forged to address the roots of the armed conflict and lay the basis for a just and lasting peace," the NPA statement said.

PEACE TALKS. President Rodrigo Duterte revived peace talks with the communist rebels.

Photo from OPAPP

The NPA's announcement comes after a series of skirmishes with the military since Sunday. 

Two soldiers were killed, one was abducted, and at least 3 were wounded in a series of armed encounters since Sunday. They were unexpected because of the ongoing ceasefire between the two armed groups. 

The military claimed the NPA rebels attacked at least 7 areas in Luzon and Mindanao despite its ceasefire declaration. Two soldiers were killed in Isabela, one was abducted in Surigao Del Norte, and at least 3 others were wounded in various parts of Mindanao during these attacks.

The NDF said the NPA only defended itself from the military which, it added, became increasingly aggressive since the firefight in Makilala.

5-month ceasefire 

The military and the NPA issued separate unilateral indefinite ceasefire declarations in August 2016 in support of the peace talks revived by President Rodrigo Duterte, one of the promises he made during the campaign.

But the ceasefire had grown untenable on the ground as both camps protested each other's activities. The NDF also protested government delays in releasing political prisoners. 

NDF panel members had suggested in media interviews a "talk while fighting" scenario, where the negotiations continue on even as the NPA goes back to war.

The government, hoping to extend the ceasefire, had pressed the NDF to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement that will put in place common rules for the military and the NPA. It was envisioned to make sure that misencounters are avoided.

The government said a ceasefire is necessary to make the environment conducive for the difficult talks on key reform proposals. (READ: PH, NDF talks: Both sides need to make painful compromises)

The panels failed to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement during the 3rd round of talks in Rome in January, but the two panels agreed to discuss the joint deal later this month in The Netherlands. 

The peace panels have yet to issue statements as of this posting. – Rappler.com