Photographer: Jes Aznar/Getty Images

Duterte Walks Away From Pledge to Forge Peace With Maoist Rebels

  • Cease-fire scrapped after rebels ambushed, murdered troops
  • President tells soldiers to go home, prepare for long struggle

Efforts to end one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies in the Philippines appear to have failed after President Rodrigo Duterte announced Saturday a withdrawal from peace talks.

"I will request, maybe tomorrow, for the Philippine contingent to fold tents and come home,” Duterte told reporters on Saturday in Davao City.

Rodrigo Duterte

Photographer: Kiwi Bulaclac/HANDOUT/EPA

The apparent collapse of the peace process comes after communist rebels last week ambushed and murdered three soldiers in Bukidnon province in the south of the country. Maoist rebels have launched at least 18 attacks on government forces since the Norway-brokered talks resumed in January.

Duterte ordered about 20 rebel leaders he had freed so they could attend negotiations in Oslo, to return to jail or face arrest. “I tried everything," Duterte said. “I walked the extra mile, released prisoners, released their leaders."

Five presidents before Duterte have tried - and failed - to end the rebellion over the last 30 years, even as the number of communist fighters has dwindled down to just 4000 from 25,000 at the height of insurgency. Peace talks under Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino ended half-way into his six-year term after rebel demands could not be met. Duterte is still pursuing separate peace negotiations with Muslim rebels.

‘Compelling Reason’

As the first president from the country’s south, Duterte’s election in May last year boosted hopes that he could use his personal touch to bring an end to the conflict that has raged for almost five decades, and usher in a new era of prosperity in Mindanao.

In an effort to build trust with exiled Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, who was once his professor at law school, Duterte offered several cabinet posts to communist leaders. A cease-fire, implemented in August, soon followed.

But with at least six soldiers killed since the resumption of peace talks, Duterte acted to end the cease-fire on Friday, saying a lasting peace with the communists may not come during his term.

Now, said Duterte during a visit to his parents grave on Saturday, only a “compelling reason” could make him resume peace negotiations. “I told soldiers to go home to their camps, clean their guns and prepare for the long struggle,” he said.

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