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Philippines, rebels hold peace talks in Norway
By BJOERN H. AMLAND
Associated Press
2011-02-15 06:55 PM
The Philippine government and Marxist rebels held peace talks Tuesday after a six-year break, with the rebels calling for the "expeditious" release of a communist leader and four other prisoners.

Allan Jazmines, a senior member of the Communist Party's leadership, was arrested Monday shortly before a cease-fire went into effect for the weeklong talks, which are aimed at ending a four-decade-long conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.

In his opening statement, rebel negotiator Luis Jalandoni urged the government to release Jazmines and four other imprisoned rebel leaders but stopped short of making their release a condition for the talks.

Government chief negotiator Alexander Padilla said the prisoner issue should be dealt with on the side, so negotiators can focus on core issues at the talks being held outside the Norwegian capital.

"We are focused on trying to come up with solutions to the armed conflict," Padilla said. "That will mean talking about economic and social reforms and political and constitutional reforms."

It's the first time since on-and-off talks started 25 years ago that the rebels have agreed to a cease-fire during the negotiations. The rebels walked away from peace talks brokered by Norway in 2004, suspecting then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's government of instigating their inclusion on U.S. and European Union terrorist lists.

Army troops and police captured Jazmines at a rebel safehouse in Baliuag town in Bulacan province Monday, military chief of staff Gen. Ricardo David Jr. said. He was served warrants for murder and rebellion.

Jazmines is a member of the policy-making central committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The military says it will release him if he is among the rebels to be granted temporary immunity by the government due to their involvement in the talks.

Government negotiators have expressed hope that last year's election of reformist President Benigno Aquino III, who has promised to reduce poverty and improve governance, would soften the rural-based insurgency, which has survived decades of military crackdown.

In a confidential report ahead of the talks, the government said the communist guerrillas grew stronger last year after a long period of battle losses, acquiring more fighters and guns and killing more government forces in a spike of attacks. It said the guerrillas managed to re-establish six rural strongholds that had been overrun by the military and staged 413 attacks _ 11 percent more than in 2009. A copy was obtained by The Associated Press.

The report said government forces killed 35 rebels last year and captured 131 others while more than 150 surrendered.

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