Reds, gov't not likely to declare unilateral ceasefire ahead of peace talks

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 31) — The government and the communist rebels are not keen on declaring unilateral ceasefires ahead of the resumption of peace talks.

This is based on separate statements made by both sides on Friday, ahead of the expected restoration of the rebels' ceasefire, as earlier announced by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, chairman of the government's peace panel, said the government has "no reason to declare a unilateral ceasefire because our President is more interested in obtaining a bilateral ceasefire agreement."

"If they (rebels) feel we are not prepared to declare one then I don't think they will proceed with the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire," Bello said.

Bello also said he had talked with National Democratic Front (NDF) Chairman Fidel Agcaoili, who expressed the communist group's preference for a joint declaration of a unilateral ceasefire. It is the NDF that represents rebels in talks to end the 48-year-old armed insurgency waged by the New People's Army.

In a statement sent to CNN Philippines, Agcaoili confirmed the communist group is aiming for a simultaneous declaration of truce.

"The revolutionary movement would appear foolish and open to attacks by the AFP (Armed Forces) and PNP (Philippine National Police) should it declare a unilateral ceasefire while the GRP would not. This would also be a violation of the principles of parity and reciprocity between the Parties in the armed conflict," Agcaoili said.

Bilateral ceasefire agreement

The government has its sights set on forging an elusive bilateral ceasefire agreement with the rebels.

"I think we should concentrate more on this more important agreement because this is where we will be assured of the lowering or the ending of hostilities," Bello said.

He said the ceasefire deal, that the government and communist peace panels failed to sign during the third round of negotiations in January, will be on top of the agenda during the resumption of peace talks on April 2-6 in the Netherlands.

The NDF and the government earlier lifted their unilateral ceasefire declarations, accusing each other of violating their own truce.

Related: AFP, NPA trade faults amid scrapped talks

President Rodrigo Duterte then withdrew from the peace talks on February 4, and the military has since waged an "all-out war" against the NPA.

After an impasse, the government and NDF peace panels agreed on March 11 to get back to the negotiating table in April.

'State of armed conflict'

The fourth round of peace talks will also focus on socio-economic reforms, which Bello described as the "heart and soul of the peace process."

The release of political prisoners, according to Bello, could be included in the discussions but only as part of confidence or trust building measures between the two sides, and not as pre-conditions for the talks to continue.

He admitted the most difficult part of the talks would be resolving the issue of revolutionary taxes and definition of the rebels' and troops' buffer zones.

Meanwhile, Bello downplayed protests and recruitment attempts by members of the NPA as they celebrate their 48th founding anniversary. He said such posturing or show of force should be expected during negotiations.

"That's the reality, we are in a state of armed conflict, and that's the reason why we are talking to end this conflict," Bello said.

CNN Philippines' Correspondent AC Nicholls contributed to this report.