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Joma: Peace Talks Merely Postponed
By Vi Massart
The Philippine Star
2 August 2005

PARIS - Communist rebels will continue to hold peace talks with the government, contrary to the announcement of Philippine-based Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) spokesman Gregorio "Ka Roger" Rosal that they have withdrawn from the negotiations, exiled communist leader Jose Ma. Sison said yesterday.

In an interview with *The STAR *from Utrecht, the Netherlands, Sison said only the formal talks had been "postponed" to give the government time to comply with certain prejudicial questions raised by the National Democratic Front (NDF), the CPP's political arm.

"The ball is on the side of the (Philippines government)," he said.

"There are some prejudicial questions that must be answered and addressed satisfactorily by both sides which concern the terrorist listing of CPP and NPA (New People's Army) including the chief political consultant of the NDFP."

The 65-year-old Sison said no side had yet terminated the safety and immunity guarantees on the movement of duly authorized rebel negotiators to take part in peace talks anywhere in the Philippines so he doesn't see a need for the government to offer him blanket immunity against arrest or prosecution if he decided to return home.

"I don't know what (presidential assistant Jesus Dureza) means," he said.

"In principle, I can go to the Philippines anytime I want to because both panels signed an agreement in 1998 in the Netherlands and witnessed personally by then President Fidel Ramos, but the NDFP directs me what to do, and if I go myself, security considerations must be taken into account," Sison said.

He said the NDF peace panel based in Utrecht was not shunning any peace overtures from the Arroyo administration.

"The least a self-respecting government's claim to national sovereignty could do is to honor its commitment," he said. "The safety and immunity rights of all members of both panels from any foreign government intervention must be assured."

However, chief government negotiator Nieves Confesor said in Manila yesterday the NDF had effectively backed out of peace talks with the government.

"We regret the NDF's unilateral withdrawal from the talks," she said in a statement.

Confesor said communist rebels "stand to lose much more by closing the door to the peace talks," citing interim agreements on human rights and immunity guarantees for rebel negotiators.

"Their members and leaders will also lose the safety and immunity guarantees they currently enjoy," she said.

Confesor said the NDF had unilaterally withdrawn from the negotiations because the CPP, New People's Army and Sison had not been removed from terrorist lists of the United States and the European Union.

The government would support initiatives by local government officials to negotiate piecemeal "peace settlements with the communist rebels on the ground" in their localities, she added.

Earlier, Rosal said in a statement the NDF would wait for the next administration before returning to the negotiating table.

"What is the sense of continuing talks with a lame-duck regime that will be gone very soon?" he said.

"Peace negotiations with the Philippine government would have better chances of succeeding after the ouster of the Arroyo regime and the establishment of a new government that would be more serious and sincere in pursuing the peace process and much-needed socio-economic and political and constitutional reforms."

Rosal said the NDF withdrew from the talks because the government "unilaterally vetoed passages in what would have been a joint communiqué issued this month announcing the resumption of formal talks.

"These actuations, which spring from (Mrs.) Arroyo's zealous support for the US war on terror and her subservience to the militarist Bush doctrine, have actually and consistently prevented the GRP-NDF negotiations from moving forward," he said.

Rosal added the Arroyo administration had a "dismal record" over the past four years regarding peace talks with communist rebels.

"The Arroyo government has put up one barrier after another to peace negotiations and torpedoed practically every agreement, past and present," he said.

Rosal said the government had been engaged in peace negotiations with the objective of goading the communist rebels to surrender.

"Instead of addressing the outstanding issues at the root of the present armed conflict, (Mrs.) Arroyo repeatedly pressured the NDF to sign a surrender document in the name of a 'final peace agreement' and enter into an indefinite ceasefire even in the absence of agreements on substantive issues," he said.

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