Duterte team, NDF ‘optimistic’ after Day 1 of peace talks in Norway

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Peace negotiators sent by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to Norway open preliminary talks with the National Democratic Front.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Peace negotiators from the incoming administration of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte have opened preliminary talks with communist rebels in Norway and both sides were optimistic the stalled negotiations will be resumed, the head of the Duterte peace delegation said Wednesday.

Incoming presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said their first meeting with representatives of the National Democratic Front (NDF) lasted about six hours before ending close to midnight on Tuesday in a hotel on the outskirts of Oslo. They will resume the informal talks on Wednesday, he said.

“There is evident shared optimism on both sides due to the declaration of President-Elect Rody Duterte to seek an early sustainable peace for the nation,” Dureza said in a Facebook post Wednesday.

Among the topics discussed on the first day of informal talks was the resumption of peace negotiations and how this will be done, Dureza said. The talks have been stalled for four years.

He said both sides agreed that “the consensus points, if any, will be initialed for authentication purposes at the close of the informal talks” and will be formalized only after Duterte formally assumes office.

He was accompanied by incoming labor secretary Silvestre Bello, the chief government negotiator, and former Pangasinan congressman Hernani Braganza. They left for Oslo on June 10.

The NDF panel was headed by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder, Jose Ma. Sison, NDF Spokesman Fidel Agcaoili and its negotiating panel chairman Luis Jalandoni. The NDF, the political arm of the CPP, represents the rebels in peace negotiations to end the 47-year-old insurgency waged by the New People’s Army (NPA).

Shortly after the May 9 elections, Duterte announced he will send a team of negotiators to discuss the possible resumption of talks with Sison, who has been in self-exile in the Netherlands since 1987. Norway is facilitating the talks.

“I have commissioned them to go to Oslo … to hold the preliminary talks there. For the broader framework to talk about, and to accompany maybe, Jose Maria Sison in coming home,” Duterte said then.

He also offered four Cabinet posts to the CPP. The NDF has submitted nominees.

Related: National Democratic Front submits list of Cabinet nominees

To move the talks forward, the rebels have asked Duterte to free all political prisoners and detainees, particularly those they have identified as consultants in the negotiations.

Watch: Duterte seeks general amnesty for political prisoners

The NDF also sent a delegation led by Agcaoili in May to Davao City to talk to Duterte and lay the ground for a dialogue with his incoming administration.

Related: Duterte readies for Philippine peace talks restart as rebel team arrives

Sison has said he plans to return to the Philippines in July or August – nearly 30 years since he left the country after the collapse of the first round of peace negotiations with the government under then President Corazon Aquino.

Ceasefire agreement

Agcaoili told reporters early this month that before formal talks can begin, emissaries of both panels will hold an informal meeting to iron out details, referring to the ongoing Oslo talks.

He said one of the top items on their agenda would be the drafting of an interim ceasefire agreement.

Siyempre tigil putukan [Of course there will be a ceasefire]. No offensive operations by both sides … and then maybe [there will be a] mechanism … in case of violations," Agcaoili said.

The NPA traditionally declares a ceasefire during the Christmas holidays, or limited cessation of hostilities during negotiations for the release of their captives.

The rebels have previously rejected a ceasefire before a comprehensive peace agreement has been signed. The change in tact indicates the rebels are responding positively to Duterte’s peace overtures.