Norway is to send a special envoy to the Philippines in a bid to kickstart stalled peace talks between Manila and communist rebels waging a decades-long insurgency, officials said Thursday.
Ture Lundh, who has been brokering the negotiations, will travel to the Philippines between September 5 to 7 to try to break the deadlock, the government and rebel negotiators said separately.
The impasse stems from the communist rebels’ demand that the Philippines free 13 captured insurgent officers, according to chief government negotiator Alexander Padilla.
“We will try to iron out our differences. But as far as we are concerned, we did not suspend any talks. It was they who suspended the talks,” Padilla told Agence France-Presse.
Chief rebel negotiator Luis Jalandoni said in a radio interview that the Norwegian “third party facilitator” would hopefully resolve the dispute so the two sides could hold fresh talks in Norway from September 12 to 24.
The government and the communists held on-and-off peace talks for over two decades but in a meeting brokered by Norway in February, the two sides agreed to speed up negotiations in an attempt seal a peace accord by June 2012.
However, in recent months Communist leaders have insisted on the release of 13 captured comrades, saying they are “consultants” in the peace negotiations and are covered by an immunity provisions extended to all rebel negotiators.
Philippine officials in turn have increasingly accused the rebels of bad faith, especially after the guerrillas kidnapped a town mayor and four jail guards in the past two months.
Asked if a peace accord was still possible by June 2012, Padilla replied: “I’m still hopeful.”