Philippine communist rebels to end unilateral cease-fire

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine communist rebels said Wednesday they will end their unilateral cease-fire next week because the government has not freed all political prisoners and has encroached on rebel-held areas, though they said they continue to support peace negotiations.

The Communist Party of the Philippines and its military arm, the New People's Army, said that the Aug. 28 cease-fire will expire Feb. 10. The rebels and the government had separately declared a cease-fire as they resumed their peace talks.

Founded in 1968, the rural-based guerrillas have unsuccessfully tried to negotiate an end to their rebellion and sought inclusion in government with six Philippine presidents, including Rodrigo Duterte.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said troops will continue to enforce the government's cease-fire unless Duterte decides otherwise.

Troops will not carry out operations against the rebels but will maintain peace and order. The military does not recognize any area under control of the New People's Army and will not allow guerrillas to move around with their weapons, he said.

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines still believes in and would want to give peace a chance," military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said.

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza expressed dismay at the rebel decision, saying it comes after progress was made in peace talks last month in Rome, with both sides agreeing to discuss a bilateral cease-fire later this month.

Dureza said he will recommend to Duterte that the government maintain its unilateral cease-fire.

The rebel ceasefire eased fighting that enabled the Duterte administration to shift troops to fight Muslim extremist groups in at least three battlefronts in the south. If clashes with the communists resume, that would put new pressure on the military and serve as an adverse backdrop to the peace talks.

Even before the latest announcement, the military counted nine rebel attacks since Sunday, including an ambush that killed two soldiers in northern Isabela and a raid on an upscale resort in Batangas province, southwest of the capital, where the guerrillas carted away security guards' firearms.

The rebels said the government had not complied with its obligation to declare an amnesty for the insurgents and release about 200 rebel prisoners under an earlier agreement.

Battle setbacks, surrenders and infighting have weakened the rebel group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

Sporadic fighting has left about 40,000 combatants and civilians dead.