Left-wing rebels extend COVID-19 ceasefire until Apr 30
Manila, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- Left-wing Filipino insurgents the New People’s Army are unilaterally extending a ceasefire with the government until Apr. 30, the group said on Thursday.
The ceasefire had been declared three weeks earlier after an appeal by the United Nations to stop all violence worldwide due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Central Committee of the banned Communist Party of the Philippines – the political wing of the NPA – on Wednesday issued an order to its military units in this regard, according to a statement by the party.
The order instructed the militants “to extend the nationwide ceasefire for 15 more days to prioritize the fight against the pandemic and ensure the safety, health and well-being of everyone,” according to the party which is led by Jose Maria Sison, who has been living in self-exile in the Netherlands for three decades.
The rebels urged the Philippine government to reciprocate the gesture and free all political prisoners in the country – most of whom belong to the CPP and the NPA – on humanitarian grounds to prevent infections in case the new coronavirus spreads among prisons in the country.
The Philippines has some of the most overcrowded prisons in the world, housing around 500 percent more inmates than the capacity.
On Mar. 24, Sison announced that he had advised his troops to follow a ceasefire after a global appeal by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who had urged all warring parties to “silence the guns” and focus on the “fight to save lives.”
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte had declared a unilateral ceasefire until Apr. 15 a week earlier, on Mar. 18, so that the military could focus on responding to the epidemic, a measure which Sison had initially refused to reciprocate, calling it a pretext for abuse.
Both sides have repeatedly accused each other of violating the truce in recent weeks.
Duterte came to power in 2016 with the promise of reviving the peace process with the left-wing rebels but the dialog broke down repeatedly, leading the president to shut down negotiations last year and order the military to “annihilate the enemy.”
However, a negotiation window was reopened in December and since then a few initial encounters have taken place in the Netherlands, where Sison runs the CPP headquarters in exile.
The NEP, formed in 1969 to fight against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, has around 3,900 regular fighters, although the number of its troops reached as high as 26,000 during the 1980s.
It has been involved in a deadly conflict for half a century that has resulted in around 43,000 deaths. EFE-EPA