Thu Apr 6, 2017 5:59AM
Philippine government and rebel negotiators take part in peace talks organized by the Dutch government, in the Dutch town of Noordwijk aan Zee, April 2, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Philippine government and rebel negotiators take part in peace talks organized by the Dutch government, in the Dutch town of Noordwijk aan Zee, April 2, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The Philippines’ government and communist rebels in the country say they have agreed on an interim truce during ongoing peace negotiations in the Netherlands.

Government negotiators and those of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) announced on Wednesday that they had signed a document titled the Agreement on an Interim Joint Ceasefire in the western Dutch town of Noordwijk aan Zee.

Both delegations also said in a joint press conference in the Dutch city that the temporary ceasefire would take effect once the two warring sides had ironed out the guidelines and ground rules, adding that the parameters would then be effective until a permanent truce was reached.

The government of President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier threatened to step up attacks on the rebel group following an escalation of deadly clashes that erupted earlier this year between fighters from the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) — an NDFP affiliate — and the government troops.

“This is another step closer to our dream. There are still many steps that we have to work on but this is a very important step,” said Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process, during the presser in Noordwijk aan Zee.

Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the CPP, for his part, also congratulated both sides for the progress in the negotiations.

“This will go a long way in building trust and confidence, and generating the atmosphere for the accelerated plans of the associations on socio-economic reforms, and political and constitutional reforms,” he said at the press conference on Wednesday.

Members of the New People’s Army (NPA) are seen in a remote village in Mindanao, the Philippines, on December 26, 2014. (Photo by AFP)

As another confidence-building measure, the NDFP and Manila also agreed on swapping a number of prisoners, namely four soldiers and police officers under rebel custody and 23 political inmates under government custody.

Peace negotiations have been held on and off for the last three decades. The rebels and the government had declared separate ceasefires last year, which allowed the government to withdraw troops from battlefields to focus on an offensive against the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, which is now a Daesh affiliate, and other extremist outfits in the country’s south.

The resumption of the peace talks with the 4,000-strong communist rebel group had been a high priority for the government in Manila since Duterte took office on June 30 last year. Talks with the rebels had collapsed in 2013 after the government of former president Benigno Aquino refused to release some key rebel commanders.

The communist insurgency in the Southeast Asian country began in 1968 and is one of the longest-running in the world. It has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, according to the military.