Philippine president Duterte warns rebels after peace talks collapse
President says military ready to respond with airstrikes and fresh offensives after New People’s Army kills six soldiers
Associated Press – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/05/phillipine-president-duterte-warns-rebels-peace-talks-collapse
5 February 2017
The Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, has warned the military is ready to respond with airstrikes and new offensives if Maoist rebels launch attacks, after both sides lifted separate ceasefires and he announced he was scrapping peace talks with the guerrillas.
Duterte, speaking at a news conference, called the rebels “terrorists”, as months of steady progress in talks brokered by Norway rapidly fell apart after members of the New People’s Army killed six soldiers and kidnapped two others in renewed violence.
One of the world’s longest running insurgencies, which began in the 1960s, it is estimated to have claimed as many as 40,000 lives.
“It seems to me that these terrorists want another 50 years of war, of killing of Filipinos,” Duterte told reporters after attending the wake of three of the dead soldiers in the southern city of Cagayan de Oro.
“I don’t want a bloody thing, but if they choose to do it, fine,” the president said. “With my lifting of the ceasefire, they can begin their attacks and we are prepared and I will use the assets. We have so many planes now, we have jets, I will drop all [the bombs].”
Duterte lifted the government’s six-month-old ceasefire with the rebels on Friday and ordered troops to prepare for fresh fighting after the guerrillas abandoned their own truce two days earlier and killed six soldiers. He said some of the soldiers were killed like pigs and raked with gunfire.
On Saturday, Duterte said he was scrapping the talks with the rebels and would order government negotiators not to participate in negotiations for a joint ceasefire accord scheduled this month in Norway, adding: “Peace with the communists might not come in this generation.”
The rebels have yet to react to Duterte’s moves.
Despite his tough talk, the president asked thousands of guerrillas to abandon nearly half a century of bloody rebellion in the countryside with an offer of land reform and housing.
“I’m offering you peace,” he said. “You should just come down and I will look for money to place you in settlements and I will proceed with the land reform.”
Duterte said several rebel leaders who were temporarily freed to join the peace talks in Europe should immediately return to the Philippines and go back to prison, warning that he would cancel their passports and order them to be arrested. They could also apply for asylum in Europe and opt to die far from their homeland, he said.
Duterte saidhe may reconsider his decision if there was a compelling reason, but he did not elaborate. His adviser on the peace talks, Jesus Dureza, suggested on Sunday that the president’s decision may still change.
“At the moment, he has clearly spoken on the directions we all in government should take,” Dureza said in a statement. “The road to just and lasting peace is not easy to traverse. There are humps and bumps, and curves and detours along the way. What is important is that we all stay the course.”
The collapse of the talks is the latest setback for Duterte, whose crackdown on illegal drugs, which has killed thousands of people since he took office in June, has also hit a dilemma.
Duterte prohibited the 170,000-strong national police force and the National Bureau of Investigation, another key law enforcement agency, from enforcing his campaign amid an extortion scandal that was sparked by the killing of a South Korean businessman by police officers involved in the anti-drug fight.
Duterte has said he would enlist the military to support the crackdown, now in the hands of a small anti-narcotics agency. That would put more pressure on government forces, who are carrying out an offensive against Muslim extremist groups in three battlefronts in the south and now have to prepare for a possible resumption of fighting with the communist rebels.