Communist rebels to declare unilateral ceasefire before March ends

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President Rodrigo Duterte says he needs to consult with political and military leaders first before deciding on whether or not to reciprocate the rebels' planned ceasefire declaration.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 25) — Communist rebels on Saturday said they will restore their unilateral ceasefire declaration not later than March 31, to support the resumption of peace talks with the government in April.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) expects the government to reciprocate the move.

The CPP in a statement said its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), released two paramilitaries it held captive as part of "confidence-building measures to help boost peace negotiations." NPA rebels captured the two militiamen in Lupon, Davao Oriental on February 14, calling them "prisoners of war."

The CPP said the NPA will release four more hostages in Surigao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, and Bukidnon in the coming days.

In exchange, the CPP urged President Rodrigo Duterte to order the Armed Forces to "slow down its ongoing all-out offensive military operations" against the rebels.

"In the face of the AFP's all-out offensives and aerial bombing campaigns, the New People's Army is compelled to carry out tactical offensives and active defense actions in order to defend the peasant masses," the CPP said.

The CPP also wants Duterte to release 19 elderly and sickly "political prisoners" as well as other detained consultants of the National Democratic Front (NDF). The NDF represents rebels in the talks.

But Duterte said he will first call a meeting with political and military leaders before possibly reciprocating the rebels' ceasefire.

"I have to consult the speaker, I have to consult the Senate Presient, I have to convene the National Security Council and I have to ask the generals of the army and the police," Duterte said in a chance interview with reporters in Bukidnon

He also wants the rebels to release all hostages first.

The President also reminded rebels they cannot stop government troops from territories they claim.

"I do not recognize any territory of anybody, it belongs to the Republic of the Philippines every inch of this island (sic), every body of water is owned by the Republic of the Philippines," Duterte said.

Despite an optimistic start to the peace talks, Duterte withdrew from the negotiations on February 4, following what he said was brutal killing of soldiers amid a truce.

Also read: PH Army: NPA rebels kill, abduct soldiers despite ceasefire

The CPP announced an end to their ceasefire declaration on February 1, accusing troops of violating the government's truce.

In a joint statement on March 11, the government and the NDF peace panels agreed to resume formal peace negotiations on April 2-6 in the Netherlands.

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said this puts the negotiations "back in track," to end the 48-year-old insurgency waged by the rebels.

The CPP also expressed its commitment to the peace negotiations, and supports efforts of the two sides to forge a bilateral ceasefire agreement, although it anticipates "difficult negotiations."

CNN Philippines' Eimor P. Santos and Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.