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Philippine government, insurgents meet in Oslo in peace bid

OSLO, January 14, 2011 (AFP) – Representatives of the Philippine government and the country’s communist rebels gathered in Oslo Friday for informal talks aimed at preparing for an upcoming relaunch of a peace process put on ice in 2005.

“The aim of this meeting is to prepare in the best possible fashion for the formal peace negotiations that are set to begin next month,” Norwegian facilitator and diplomat Ture Lundh told AFP.

The last time the Philippine government and the communist insurgents met was in 2004 and the peace process was shelved in 2005.

The communist New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), launched its uprising in 1969, and thousands of people have been killed during what has become one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies.

The rebels are demanding the liberation of “political prisoners” and for their organisation to be removed from the US and European Union lists of “terrorist organisations.”

For the five-day closed-door meeting in Oslo however, “there will not be an agenda,” said Lundh.

“The two parties will of course have the opportunity to express their concerns and raise questions that are in the air, but the main aim is to lay the groundwork for relaunching the formal negotiations,” he said.

As for the peace process, Lundh said: “I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic.”

“This is a marathon, not a sprint. We know there will be highs and lows, but the important thing is to have constructive and productive discussions,” he said, adding the atmosphere was “good.”

Representatives from both sides said they had agreed not to comment on the meeting until after it ended Tuesday.

Chief government negotiator Alex Padilla however told AFP last week the informal talks would “set the tone for how the meetings and their substantive portions will be held next month.”

The Oslo meeting comes just days after fresh battles left four NPA rebels, one soldier and a policeman dead.

On January 5, Philippine police also announced the arrest of one of the main NPA leaders, Tirso Alcantara, who is suspected of murder, kidnapping and robbery, after an 18-day Christmas ceasefire between the two sides ended.

About 4,700 NPA rebels are continuing the fight, mainly in the poorest areas of the Philippines, earning funds primarily through extortion of businesses and provincial politicians.

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