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Bello: Next round of talks with NDF may happen in August

The peace panel at an informal meeting with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front headed by Jose Ma. Sison in Oslo, Norway in 2016. Jesus Dureza, Facebook, file
MANILA, Philippines — The government and communist rebels are expected to hold informal talks this month before resuming formal peace negotiations in August, a Cabinet official said Tuesday.
 
Government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III, who is also Labor secertary, said he and National Democratic Front (NDF, also National Democratic Front of the Philippines or NDFP) chairman Fidel Agcaoili talked last Sunday and agreed to resume the fifth round of formal talks next month. The NDF represents the communist rebels in the peace talks with the government.
 
“The stalled fifth round will probably be realized second or third week of August,” Bello said in a press briefing in Malacañang.
 
“But before that, for better results, this time we will have a good result, there will be an informal meeting between the panel,” he added.
 
Bello said the informal talks would be held somewhere in Asia “within the third or last week of July.”
 
“There will be an informal meeting and they will discuss mainly on the issue of socioeconomic reforms and the possible interim unilateral ceasefire,” he said.
 
“They will talk so that come August, everything will be clear. And it will only be for submission to the panel for formal approval by the panels.”
 
There is no venue yet for the informal meeting but Bello said he prefers that the event be held in Hong Kong or the Philippines. The NDF is proposing that the informal meeting be held in Japan.
 
Past talks have been held in the Netherlands, Norway and Italy. 
 
Last May, the government deferred the fifth round of negotiations with the leftists after the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) directed fighters of the New People's Army to intensify attacks against government forces enforcing martial law in Mindanao.

Bello: There is an existing armed conflict

Bello, however, believes that the suspension of the fifth round “was not attributed to the attacks.”
 
“Because the reality is that there is an existing armed conflict. That is the reason why we are talking to end the armed conflict. So while we are talking, you expect some skirmishes once in a while,” he said.
 
On Tuesday, soldiers of the Army's 50th Infantry Battalion figured in firefights with the NPA in Kalinga province. The NPA also raided a police station in Maasin, Iloilo in June.
 
Bello said the CPP’s previous statement that it would “accelerate and intensify attacks against government” was not in line with the provisions of the Hague Joint Declaration, which requires both parties to provide an atmosphere conducive to the conduct of a peace negotiation.
 
Bello said the interim ceasefire to be discussed during the informal meeting would be unilateral. The ceasefire can be signed before or during the resumption of the formal negotiations.
 
“But if they agree on the terms of reference, it may be converted to bilateral,” he said.
 
Bello said a unilateral ceasefire is needed “to provide the talks with the conducive atmosphere” and to avoid skirmishes.
 
He said the ceasefire panels would discuss the composition of the committee that would monitor the implementation of the ceasefire.
 
Another issue that has to be settled, Bello added, is the designation of a “referee.”  
 
“If there are violations, where will you run to? That is the sensitive issue, who will be the referee?… It could be a joint team,” he said.
 
Asked if there is a timeline for the interim ceasefire, Bello replied: “For me, it will be for as long as we do not have the bilateral ceasefire.”
 
Despite the delays and the disagreements, Bello said he remains upbeat about the prospects of the negotiations.
 
“I hope you will understand me. I’m ever the optimist. I always say that, ‘There is always a hope for a peace process,’” the government chief negotiator said.
 
“There will be humps and bumps but we will stay in the course of the process because there is no alternative. This is the best legacy that our President can give to our country: an enduring and lasting peace for everyone,” he added.
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