Norway to help Philippines in talks with rebels

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

MANILA -- Norway will continue brokering peace talks between the Philippine government and communist insurgents despite the rebels' withdrawal from negotiations, the Norwegian foreign minister said Thursday.

Talks between the rebels and the government of President Benigno Aquino III have stalled since 2011 due to disagreements over the release of several jailed rebel leaders.

Norway started facilitating the negotiations in 2004, after pervious talks since 1986 made little progress toward ending one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies.

"We're committed to continue as a facilitator ... as long as this is the interest of the government of the Philippines," Borge Brende told reporters after meeting Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

He said Norway will help find "good solutions" to the various conflicts in the country. The government is making more progress in separate talks with Muslim rebels who have already agreed to autonomy instead of independence.

Brende said his meeting with Aquino later Thursday will touch on ways to resume the talks with the communist rebels "in the months to come."

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) marked its 45th founding anniversary in December and vowed to intensify attacks against government forces and increase the number of its guerrilla fighters to 25,000. The military estimates its current strength at about 4,000.

In a statement, the communist party accused the Aquino government of being unwilling to negotiate "a just peace," and said it does not expect to resume the talks under an Aquino administration.

"It has no choice but to wait for the next regime to engage in serious negotiations," the statement said.

Brende visited areas devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November that killed more than 6,100 people in the central Philippines, and announced $8 million more in aid, raising Norway's support to $43 million, making it the third-largest donor after the United States and Britain. (AP)

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