NDF urges NPA to release captured soldiers

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Talking peace while fighting is possible, a political analyst says.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said it will ask its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA) to release at least three soldiers it had taken.

In a statement on Thursday, NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said the NDFP will recommend to the NPA the release of these "prisoners of war" as soon as possible — once they are found not liable for any human rights violations or crimes after thorough investigation.

Agcaoili urged the armed rebels to free the soldiers as a "measure of goodwill in the peace negotiations."

It is the NDFP, as the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) that represents rebels in peace negotiations with the government to end the 48-year-old insurgency waged by the NPA.

NPA rebels took two soldiers of the 39th Infantry Battalion in Sultan Kudarat on Thursday. Earlier on Sunday, they captured Private First Class Erwin Salan right after he participated in a clean-up drive near Lumondo Falls, a tourist destination in Surigao del Norte.

Also read: PH Army: NPA rebels abduct, kill soldiers despite a ceasefire

The NPA rebels on Friday said they have initiated at least 20 offensives against government forces during the week, and have captured at least five soldiers.

The military, however,  said the rebels had taken only three solders. It is  verifying the NPA's claim it has  five soldiers in captivity.

Military units nationwide remain on heightened alert in anticipation of scaled-up rebel attacks, following the government and communists' withdrawal of their respective unilateral ceasefire declarations.

Also read: Rebels end unilateral ceasefire: We'll 'negotiate while fighting'

Also read: Duterte lifts ceasefire; says communists' demands 'too huge, impossible to meet'

Talking while fighting possible

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, chairman of the government's peace panel, on Saturday told state-run radio station DZRB, it is unfortunate that soldiers have to be taken and killed.

But Bello said the government will still pursue striking a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the rebels.

The government and NDFP panels failed to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement after the third round of peace talks in Rome, Italy last January, but they agreed to discuss it on February 22-27 in the Netherlands. The fourth round of peace talks has also been scheduled to resume in Oslo, Norway on April 2-6.

Political analyst Clarita Carlos told CNN Philippines it is possible for the government and rebels to talk peace while fighting.

Carlos, however, said the peace talks should "address the issues that brought about the insurgency in the first place, socio-economic reforms and the like, and at a later time there would be no more reason to even negotiate with them because the conditions on the ground have changed."