Philippines in 25-day Christmas truce with leftist rebels

December 20, 2013 - 2:30:13 pm

MANILA: Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Friday suspended military operations against leftist rebels for 25 days, giving them free passage to visit their homes and relatives, a top aide said.

The aide, Teresita Deles, said the unilateral move should give the "traumatised" nation respite after a three-month spate of natural disasters and armed conflict left 8,300 people dead or missing and more than four million homeless.

"In a matter of three months, our people have faced major tragedies that have left our nation deeply traumatised," said Deles, who advises Aquino on peace negotiations with Maoist insurgents as well as Muslim rebels.

"This year, a Christmas ceasefire gains added urgency with the call for healing and rebuilding."

She said the armed forces would "suspend all offensive military operations" from December 21 until January 15 next year, while keeping "defensive readiness in the protection of our people."

This would give the Communist Party of the Philippines and its 4,000-member guerrilla force, the New People's Army, safe passage to celebrate the Christian holidays with their families far from harm, she added.

The rebels earlier declared a 48-hour Christmas truce from December 24. 

As well as another 48-hour ceasefire from New Year's Eve.

They said the truce would extend until mid-January in areas devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan last month.

Haiyan killed 6,100 people and left nearly 2,000 others missing and 4.4 million homeless across the central Philippine islands on November 8, the government said.

A major earthquake in October killed more than 220 people in the central islands of Bohol and Cebu, while a three-week siege by Muslim gunmen on the southern city of Zamboanga in September left at least 244 people dead.

About 10,000 houses were also torched, forcing more than 116,000 people to flee the fighting, the government said.

"In this season of faith, hope and solidarity, we bind ourselves together as a people for the long-term effort to rebuild in our disaster areas and reconstruct the lives, livelihoods and property of the survivors," Deles said.

The ceasefire covers only the Maoist rebels.

The government is already observing a ceasefire and holding peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country's largest Muslim rebel group.

Aquino had been aiming to end the leftist rebellion before he leaves office in 2016. 

But the government said in April that peace talks had collapsed.

The fighting has claimed 30,000 lives since 1969 according to the government tally. (AFP)

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