Philippine rebels see opening for stalled talks

Rebel attacks last year killed 187 government forces and dozens of civilians were caught in the crossfire.

Manila: Philippine communist rebels on Saturday said, stalled talks with Manila could resume with Norway`s help, and suggested a limited deal that they said, would swiftly end the decades-long insurgency.

Talks to end the rebellion, which has lasted more than four decades, have been going on for over 20 years, but in a meeting brokered by Norway in February both sides agreed to speed up the process.

Chief rebel negotiator Luis Jalandoni said, he is to meet his government counterpart on Monday and Tuesday with a special Norwegian envoy dispatched to Manila to try to end the current impasse, which stems from the rebels` demand for the release of 13 captured officers.

"We think the problems can be solved and obstacles can be overcome, but it requires strong political will on both sides," Jalandoni told a news conference.

The two sides hope to seal a peace accord by June 2012, but Jaladoni said at least five of the 13 must be freed so the talks could proceed later this month or in October.

In recent months communist leaders have insisted on the release of their captured comrades, calling them "consultants" covered by an immunity provisions extended to all rebel negotiators.

Government negotiator Alexander Padilla accused the rebels of bad faith on Saturday but stressed he was not ruling out a resumption of the talks.

Jaladoni said, the rebels had secretly offered President Benigno Aquino a "coalition government" that he said, would lead to an instant ceasefire and a peace deal, with talks on political and economic reforms to follow later.

A special Aquino envoy is pursuing "special track" talks with the rebels, Jalandoni said, suggesting it could proceed side by side with his group`s formal talks with Padilla.

The proposal would have the rebels joining a "Council of National Unity" to advise Aquino on reforms and put up 20 projects to make the country self-sufficient in food, steel, and pharmaceuticals.

Padilla said, the Philippines had rejected a deal along similar lines in 2005, but added he could not comment on the new one.

The Communist Party of the Philippines has been waging a Maoist campaign to seize power since 1969.

From a peak of over 25,000 in the 1980s, the military and other defence experts believe the guerrillas number less than 5,000 fighters.

Rebel attacks last year killed 187 government forces and dozens of civilians were caught in the crossfire, according to Brussels security think-tank International Crisis Group.

Bureau Report

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