Dureza pushing for peace with communist, Moro rebels

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Jesus Dureza took over as Presidential Peace Adviser on Monday, looking forward to juggling talks with communist and Muslim rebels and even negotiating to free hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf group.

Dureza took over the helm of the Office of the Presidential Adviser from Ging Deles more than four years after peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) had stalled over disagreements on the release of captured communist rebel leaders.

Dureza will also simultaneously pursue the peace process with the two Muslim rebel groups: the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). He said the existing peace agreement with the MILF will be implemented in a manner that will ensure inclusion of other Mindanao-based groups, including the MNLF.

The first order of business with the communist rebels is an interim ceasefire agreement when the two sides resume formal peace negotiations later this month in Oslo, Norway. The Norwegian government is brokering the talks.

Also read: Duterte gov’t, NDF set peace talks for July

“How can you negotiate, and provide the proper atmosphere for negotiation, e nagbabakbakan mga tao niyo on the ground [when your troops are fighting on the ground],” Dureza said.

The New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging Asia’s longest-running insurgency since 1969. The NDF, its political arm, is representing the rebels in the talks.

Also read: CPP lauds the incoming Duterte government's peace efforts

For the first time in a long while, the rebels are upbeat about the prospects for the talks, even agreeing to an early ceasefire. The rebels have previously rejected any ceasefire agreement ahead of a comprehensive peace deal.

Also read: NDF wants early start to formal peace talks - Bello

In a statement, the NDF said it wants to intensify anti-U.S. sentiments under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“An avowed ‘Leftist,’ Duterte is set to be the first president of the Philippine client-state who is not beholden to U.S. imperialism,” the NDF said.

About a handful of left-wing students tried to march to the U.S. embassy Monday, but were pushed back by anti-riot police before they reached the gates in what has been an annual U.S. protest on July 4, the American Independence Day and Filipino-American Friendship Day.

Outgoing Presidential Peace Adviser Ging Deles said the peace negotiations with the Muslim rebels “will be MILF-led, but it is not meant to be exclusively for the MILF, nor even MILF-dominated.”

More than a week before he officially took office on June 30, Duterte met leaders of both the MILF and the MNLF and said in his inaugural speech that he was elated by their expression of unity and response to his call for peace.

Dealing with the Abu Sayyaf

Dureza said the Duterte government is also open to talks with the Abu Sayyaf for the release of hostages without ransom or other concessions.

He confirmed on Monday that he was speaking to a mediator who is working for the release of Norwegian hostage, Kjartan Sekkingstad. He gave no other details.

Sekkingstad is the last of four hostages seized by the Abu Sayyaf from a resort on Samal Island in September 2015 still in their hands. Two Canadians have been beheaded by the group because no ransom was paid for them. The group recently released the lone Filipina hostage.

Freed ASG hostage Marites Flor: We were treated like dogs

The military, meanwhile, is realigning its forces against the ASG and government troops are poised to strike against the group soon, according to AFP Chief of Staff Ricardo Visaya.

“You will see in July … there will be shock and awe. I do not want to go to specifics (because this involves) strategy and tactics,” Visaya said.

Also read: New AFP Chief vows ‘unrelenting’ ops vs. Abu Sayyaf, terror groups