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Govt, NDF panels set talks on bilateral cease-fire in Utrecht in February

By: InterAksyon.com
January 25, 2017 7:34 PM

The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - The negotiating panels of the Philippine goveernment and the National Democratic Front agreed to separately discuss the bilateral ceasefire when they meet in February in time for the depositing of identification documents of rebel leaders who are to be covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

The agreement was reached at the 3rd round of talks in Rome, which was set to conclude late Wednesday.

Unable to include the joint ceasefire agenda during the opening of the 3rd round of talks in Rome, the GRP got the NDF to finally table it for discussion after a formal submission and acceptance on the part of rebel negotiators, according to a press statement issued by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

The meeting for the bilateral ceasefire will be held in Utrecht in February, according to the government's chief negotiator, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

This developed after the NDF committed to respond to the GRP draft bilateral proposal, which they officially received on Tuesday afternoon on the 4th day of the peace negotiations in Rome.

NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said they will study the draft government proposal and will submit their own draft.

“They received then they initialed the draft and they proposed that, for discussion of our proposed draft, they will have to come back (in The Netherlands) on the 22nd or 24th of February,” Bello said.

The meeting could last up to three days. The government side immediately welcomed the development. "The fact that they agreed to discuss it (bilateral ceasefire) is a positive development of the [peace] process,” Bello said.

Bello said he is confident that the commitment of the NDF to the peace process will continue to hold the separate unilateral ceasefire declaration, which the rebels had earlier hinted they were seriously considering to withdraw from.

“Otherwise, what’s the idea of discussing a bilateral ceasefire?” said Bello.

He said there was never mention about lifting the unilateral ceasefire during the unscheduled meeting following the armed encounter in Makilala, North Cotabato that left one rebel dead.

Bello said the Makilala incident should push both panels to pursue a bilateral ceasefire in order to direct complaints on violations and prompt fact-finding and investigation by a third party monitor.

Unilateral ceasefire

The ongoing unilateral ceasefire is the longest that the armed forces of both contending parties have maintained, now on its fifth month, in the history of the armed conflict between the government and the NDF.

The government has been pushing for a more formal and secure bilateral ceasefire agreement to provide the atmosphere conducive to the peace negotiations.

A bilateral ceasefire can be reached and signed on or before the 4th round of negotiations set in April in Oslo, Norway according to both panels.

Negotiating panels from both sides agreed to expand the agenda of the February special meeting after intense back channeling by panel members from both sides after the NDF initially declined to include the bilateral ceasefire in the agenda of the 3rd round of talks.

New JASIG list

Bello and the rest of the panel are going to the Netherlands next month to witness the depositing of the names and proper identification of a sealed document that will contain the names of 87 NDF leaders who will be immune from government arrests.

The new JASIG list was supposed to have already been deposited as early as October last year but the NDF said some technical problems bogged down the process.

NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said it was compounded by the unavailability of the bishop who will act as custodian of the JASIG list.

The JASIG list contains the real identification of the NDF consultants who have assumed names and aliases and are to be immune from government arrest.

Bello is the only panel member who will be given access to five random names in the JASIG verification list for verification before it is deposited in a safety deposit box of a still-to-be named bank in The Netherlands.

The list will only be opened by both parties if a listed NDF member is captured by police and government security operatives. The arrest of alleged JASIG covered NDF consultants had led to the collapse of previous talks between the GRP and the NDF.







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