OSLO, Norway (AP) — Philippine communist rebels on Friday agreed to an indefinite cease-fire in peace talks with government officials aimed at ending one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies.
After a weeklong meeting in Norway, negotiators for the Maoist rebels and the government issued a joint statement pledging to accelerate the peace process for a conflict that has killed tens of thousands since the late 1960s.
The rebels said they would extend indefinitely a unilateral cease-fire that was set to end on Saturday, a move that came in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s cease-fire which took effect on Aug. 21.
“The joint statement we are signing manifests the historic significance of what we have achieved,” said Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Philippines Communist Party.
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Philippines presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza called the statement a “historic and unprecedented event” and gave credit to President Duterte.
In the statement, the two sides reaffirmed previous agreements and agreed to discuss the release of detainees and who should get immunity to take part in the talks. Negotiators said they aim to complete the peace talks in nine to 12 months.
Although less numerous and less violent than Muslim separatist rebels in the country’s south, the Maoists have fought and outlived successive Philippine administrations for nearly 50 years, holding out against constant military and police offensives. They draw support from those dissatisfied with economic inequality, especially in the countryside, and the Philippines’ alliance with the U.S. The conflict has left an estimated 40,000 people dead.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, who facilitated the talks, said all involved had to make sure that a potential peace agreement help people in poor, rural areas improve their lives.
“It’s a unique opportunity and we all have to contribute,” he said.
Negotiators agreed to meet again on Oct. 8-12 in Oslo.
This story has been corrected to show an estimated 40,000 people have died in the conflict, not 150,000.