Philippines frees top communist leaders to join peace talks

Two top Philippine communist rebel leaders walked out of a maximum-security prison on Friday to join next week’s resumption of Norway-brokered peace talks aimed at ending one of Asia’s longest ongoing rebellions.

Communist rebel leader Benito Tiamzon, front left, his wife, Wilma, centre in blue, along with other rebel leaders raise their fists in Manila, hours after they were freed from detention at the police headquarters. Ted Aljibe / AFP Photo
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MANILA // Two top Philippine communist rebel leaders walked out of a maximum-security prison on Friday to join next week’s resumption of peace talks aimed at ending one of Asia’s longest continuous rebellions.

The Communist Party of the Philippines welcomed the release of 22 detained rebels who will now take part in the negotiations from August 22 yo — 27 in Oslo as consultants, saying the move boosts confidence in President Rodrigo Duterte’s determination to find peace.

Leading rebel couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon smiled and raised their fists as they stepped out of detention at the national police headquarters, where their supporters greeted them.

In a press conference, they thanked Mr Duterte for their release and for a restart of the talks that will tackle wide-raging reforms in a bid to end the conflict.

“These releases are goodwill measures that will create a positive environment for the progress of the peace talks,” Mr Tiamzon said.

His wife called on Filipino youth to become more involved in fighting the “monsters” of society.

“For the Filipino youth and other countrymen now hooked on catching monsters in ‘Pokemon Go,’ you know, there are so many real monsters in our country,” said Wilma Tiamzon, to laughter in the room. “Instead of Pokemon Go, what is better is Revolution Go.”

The insurgency has left about 150,000 combatants and civilians dead since it broke out in the late 1960s, drawing support from the ranks of those dissatisfied with economic inequality and the Philippines’ alliance with the United States. It also has stunted economic development, especially in the countryside, where the rebels are active.

Mr Tiamzon is the chairman of the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, according to the military. Mrs Tiamzon is said to be the secretary general.

Their release after posting bail on charges including multiple murders comes after an initial setback to the rebels’ friendly ties with Mr Duterte, who calls himself a leftist president.

Mr Duterte declared a ceasefire on July 25 but withdrew it five days later after the guerrillas killed a government militiaman in a landmine attack and failed to declare their own truce within his deadline.

Under Benigno Aquino III, peace talks stalled over the government’s refusal to heed a rebel demand for the release of some captured members. Mr Duterte, however, has agreed to the release of rebels who would be involved in peace talks, and appointed two allies of the guerrillas to cabinet posts in concessions aimed at fostering the talks.

* Associated Press