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Monday, 8 August 2011

Aquino challenges rebels on peace

MANILA, Philippines—Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Monday challenged communist insurgents to prove they are sincere in their peace efforts after a spate of kidnappings of government workers.

Aquino highlighted the abduction of a town mayor on Saturday and the seizure of four jail guards last month by communist guerrillas, both in the troubled southern Philippines, as issues that peace negotiators should take up.

“Certainly, we need to see a gesture to show that they are sincere,” the president said.

He was referring to the Communist Party of the Philippinesm which has been waging a Maoist campaign to seize power since 1969.

The abductions came despite informal meetings between government and communist negotiators to prepare for the next round of peace talks.

Manila resumed peace talks with the communist rebels in February after a seven-year lull and both sides said after the first round of negotiations they believed a peace pact could be signed by June next year.

Despite the negotiations, the communists’ armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA) continues to mount attacks on army outposts and police stations while extorting money from rural businesses and politicians.

From a peak of over 25,000 fighters in the 1980s, the military and other defense experts believe the NPA currently has less than 5,000 guerrillas.

NPA attacks last year killed 187 soldiers, police and pro-government militiamen, as well as dozens of civilians caught in crossfire, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a February report.

Aquino had an unprecedented meeting with the head of the country’s main Muslim rebel group in Tokyo last week, which has revived the parallel peace process with this group of insurgents.

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