Rodrigo Duterte: Philippines leader 'not ready' to talk to rebels

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Filipino members of the communist rebels New People's Army (NPA), 29 December 2016Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The conflict between the government and the New People's Army has claimed thousands of lives

The President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte said he is scrapping peace talks with communist rebels due to take place later this month.

Mr Duterte said he is abandoning discussions in Norway with the New People's Army (NPA) and is instructing his negotiators to return home.

He said that demands by communist rebels for the release of 400 prisoners were excessive.

The news follows the end of a six-month ceasefire between the two sides.

"I'm not ready to resume [peace talks]," Mr Duterte said, adding that he would "request the Philippine contingent to fold their tents and to come home".

"I tried everything," he added. "I walked the extra mile, released prisoners, released their leaders so they can go to Oslo to talk."

Elusive deal

Mr Duterte said that the communist leaders who his government had freed temporarily to take part in the peace negotiations overseas now faced returning to jail.

There has been no immediate comment from the rebels.

Talks in Italy last week aimed at negotiating a truce failed when the rebels demanded the release of 400 more political prisoners, including a man who killed an American army colonel in 1989.

The six-month ceasefire between the two sides broke down in recent days following renewed fighting. Previous ceasefires have also been marred by the killings of soldiers and rebels.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Mr Duterte said that the demands by communist rebels were excessive

Since he took office last year, Mr Duterte has tried to revive the peace process and has already held two rounds of formal discussions with the rebels.

The conflict, which began nearly 50 years ago with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA, its armed wing, has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives.

The rebels, who say they will not give up arms even if a deal is reached, have accused the country's military of using Mr Duterte's drug war as a pretext to mount operations in rebel areas amid ceasefires.

They strongly oppose the US military presence in the Philippines and have in the past killed American service personnel stationed in the country.

Since the 1980s they have entered into talks with successive governments, but a peace deal has remained elusive.