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Philippine leader declares unilateral ceasefire with rebels

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers his "State of the Nation Address" at Congress in Manila on July 25, 2016. (AFP photo)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a unilateral ceasefire with Maoist rebels, saying he wants to end decades of hostilities with the communist guerrillas.

“Let us end these decades of ambuscades and skirmishes. We are going nowhere and it is getting bloodier by the day,” said Duterte on Monday, adding, “To stop violence on the ground (and) restore peace, I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire.”

Making his first "State of the Nation Address" before Congress, Duterte said he wants “permanent and lasting peace” with the guerillas before the end of his six-year term, which started on June 30.

He urged rebel leaders to engage in efforts to restart peace talks.

Negotiations have been underway between representatives of the government and rebels, with reports suggesting that a general agreement has been reached to resume peace talks.

The two sides have also agreed to organize a meeting between Duterte and Jose Maria Sison, a rebel leader who is currently in self-exile in Europe. Reports say Sison will soon fly home to attend the meeting although official peace talks are expected next month in Norway.

About 30,000 people have been killed since the communists started their insurgency in the Philippines in the 1960s.

The military says the New People's Army, the communists' armed wing, has fewer than 4,000 gunmen today, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s.

Talks with the rebels collapsed in 2013 after the government of former president, Benigno Aquino, rejected to release some key rebel commanders.

Duterte’s reconciliation bid with the rebels comes as the Philippines is in the midst of a massive operation against drug dealers. The security in the Southeast Asian country has also been fragile due to recurrent attacks by militants of Abu Sayyaf, a group which has pledged allegiance to Daesh Takfiris.

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