April 3, 2018 / 1:28 PM / 18 days ago

Philippine leader ready to renew peace talks with Maoist rebels

MANILA, April 3 (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday expressed willingness to reopen peace talks with Maoist-led rebels, more than four months after breaking off intermittent negotiations and seeking a “terrorist” tag for the communists.

The justice ministry asked a local court in February to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), “terrorist” bodies that Duterte had sought to destroy.

When he came to office in July 2016, he freed some Maoist leaders and appointed leftists to the Cabinet to draw them into peace talks. However, the peace process was abandoned in November, with Duterte furious after what he called repeated attacks by the guerrillas during the talks.

“We are not enemies,” Duterte said on Tuesday, addressing NPA fighters in a speech in central Oriental Mindoro province, a rebel stronghold, where he attended the inauguration of a bridge project.

“If we can have a middle ground, I am not really closing everything,” he said, likening the disagreement between his government and the rebels to a lover’s quarrel that eventually he thought will end.

Ending the nearly half-century long conflict with the communists, in which more than 40,000 people have been killed, was among Duterte’s priorities when he took office.

Negotiations to end the revolt have been on and off since being brokered by Norway in 1986.

“Let us agree on some fundamentals,” Duterte said, adding that he was ready to spend money to “subsidise” the rebels.

Before resuming talks, however, he said the rebels must agree to a ceasefire, stop extortion activities and abandon their proposal for the creation of a “coalition government”. (Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz and Manuel Mogato Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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