Philippine government negotiator and Luis Jalandoni of the NDF meet in Hong Kong to reopen peace talks

BBC News Asia-Pacific, 2 December 2010

Peace talks have been suspended since 2004

Representatives of the Philippines government and of the country’s Communist Party are meeting in Hong Kong to find a way to reopen peace talks.

The government’s chief negotiator Alexander Padilla is meeting with Luis Jalandoni of the National Democratic Front, or NDF. The NDF is an umbrella group of leftist organisations including the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The party, founded in 1968, still poses a threat in parts of the country.

Some of its former leaders hold seats in the Senate and Congress while others, such as Mr Jalandoni, face arrest warrants in the Philippines.

The talks are being held in Hong Kong to assuage his fears of arrest if he returned to the Philippines. He lives in exile in the Netherlands as does the head of the CPP, Jose Maria Sison.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino set up a panel in October to seek a way to re-open peace talks. “It’s the very first step to lay the good foundation for the talk. They (government negotiators) know that they have my entire support behind them. So I would not pressure them to coming up with results just for a good soundbite. We really want to achieve the lasting solutions towards this longest-running insurgency,” he said.

The presidential adviser on the peace process, Teresita Deles, told reporters that the meeting in Hong Kong could not be considered formal peace talks. “It’s really getting to know you. It’s the very first step to lay the good foundation for the talk,” she said.

Peace talks stalled in 2004 when the United States added the CPP’s military arm, the New People’s Army, to a list of terrorist organisations.

A new effort by the previous government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo foundered in February this year when 43 health workers were arrested and accused of being communists.

Mr Sison has also been under pressure for the deaths of party members in internal party purges and a group of former communists is continuing to press for his prosecution.

The communists are estimated to have about 4,000 armed fighters. It has called for the release of all political prisoners in the country and for meaningful land reform.

The communists gained public support during the martial law years of the 1970s but lost dominance when the country returned to democracy in 1986.

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