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Philippines scraps communist truce, Duterte tells troops 'be ready to fight'

by Reuters
Friday, 3 February 2017 12:38 GMT

A soldier salutes as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrives to take part during the change of command for the new Armed Forces chief at a military camp in Quezon city, Metro Manila, December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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"I am asking the soldiers: Go back to your camps, clean your rifles and be ready to fight"

* Duterte says NPA demands 'just too huge'

* Truce was fragile as no ground rules set

* Conflict with communists since 1968

* Military, defence ministry launch scathing criticism

By Martin Petty and Manuel Mogato

MANILA, Feb 3 (Reuters) - The Philippine government will withdraw from a ceasefire with communist rebels on Friday, President Rodrigo Duterte said, as he ordered soldiers to prepare to fight and declared there would be no peace with the insurgents for a generation.

Duterte was angered by the deaths of six soldiers and the abduction of three since the New People's Army (NPA) halted its unilateral ceasefire on Wednesday.

He complained that despite making multiple concessions to the communists, the NPA's demands were "just too huge".

Read more: FACTBOX-Philippines' faltering peace process with communist rebels

The conflict between the government and the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has raged since 1968 and killed more than 40,000 people.

"I have lost many soldiers in just 48 hours, I think to continue with the ceasefire does not, or will not, produce anything," Duterte said in a speech.

"I am asking the soldiers: Go back to your camps, clean your rifles and be ready to fight."

The ceasefires called by both sides were always fragile because they were unilaterally declared, with no rules to follow. Each side accused the other of violations.

Within weeks of taking office in July last year, Duterte made a peace process a priority and a prerequisite for his ultimate goal of introducing a federal system in the Philippines.

He offered leftists cabinet posts and promised - if peace talks succeeded - a portfolio for Jose Maria Sison, his former university professor and the CPP figurehead who lives in exile in the Netherlands.

Sison is listed by the United States as a "person supporting terrorism" and the Philippine government last week tried to convince Washington to remove him from the list.


"I'm really very sorry. I tried my best but like in the song, my best was not good enough," Duterte said.

"There will be no peace in this land vis-a-vis the Communist Party. Let's resume the war."

The NPA on Wednesday accused the military of occupying 500 barrios, or town districts, that are supposedly within their control and accused government troops of "hostile actions".

The military responded by saying the NPA had done the same on many occasions. The NPA's ceasefire was due to expire on Feb. 10.

Duterte's rhetoric was typically fierce, as was that of the military, which is normally measured in its statements.

Armed forces chief General Eduardo Ano described the NPA's conduct since Tuesday as "disdainful and disturbing".

Duterte said the rebels' demand for the release of hundreds of political prisoners was excessive, making a compromise impossible to work out. He felt he had shown his commitment by freeing top communist leaders.

"I am sad to report to you that there will be no peace with the communists for the next generation", he said.

Government peace negotiator Silvestre Bello said this week's breakdown highlighted the weaknesses of the truce, but he was confident both sides wanted to keep the peace process alive.

"Trust is still there," Bello told television channel ANC. "The unilateral ceasefire was not working well because there were no definitions of terms, no parameters."

(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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