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Philippines frees top communist leaders to join peace talks

Manila: Two top Philippine communist rebel leaders walked out of a maximum-security jail Friday to join next week's resumption of Norway-brokered peace talks aimed at ending one of Asia's longest-raging rebellions.

The underground Communist Party of the Philippines has welcomed the successive releases of 22 detained rebels who are to take part in the 22 to 27 August negotiations in Oslo as consultants, saying the move boosts confidence in President Rodrigo Duterte's determination to find peace.

Representational imgae. Reuters

Representational imgae. Reuters

Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende will open the talks on Monday at an Oslo hotel, Norway's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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 news conference, they thanked Duterte for their release and for a restart of 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," Benito 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," Wilma Tiamzon said 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 U.S. It also has stunted economic development, especially in the countryside, where the rebels are active.

Benito Tiamzon is the chairman of the CPP and its armed wing, the New People's Army, according to the military. Wilma 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 Duterte, who calls himself a leftist president.

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

There were sharp exchanges in media between Duterte and his former professor, Jose Maria Sison, the Netherlands-based CPP founding chairman who described his former student as volatile and a thug. Duterte warned the rebels to deal with the government in good faith or fight for another generation.

But on Monday, Duterte met with the rebels' lawyers and allies at the presidential palace, smiling for cameras with linked arms.

"The President said that while he was hurt by the sharp exchanges between him and CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison... he gave assurances that he will walk the extra mile for peace," presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said after that meeting.

Under Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, peace talks stalled over the government's refusal to heed a rebel demand for the release of some captured guerrillas. 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.

Updated Date: Aug 19, 2016 18:00 PM

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