Philippine rebels declare cease-fire to heed UN chief’s call

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) — Communist guerrillas in the Philippines said yesterday they would observe a cease-fire in compliance with the United Nations (UN) chief’s call for a global halt in armed clashes during the coronavirus pandemic.

New People’s Army guerrillas have been ordered to stop assaults and shift to a defensive position from today to April 15, the Communist Party of the Philippines said in a statement.

The rebels said the ceasefire is a “direct response to the call of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire between warring parties for the common purpose of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Guterres issued the call on Monday, saying, “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

The communist insurgency has raged mostly in the Philippine countryside for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. The military estimates about 3,500 armed guerrillas remain after battle setbacks, infighting and surrenders have reduced their forces in decades of fighting although the rebels claim they have more fighters.

The rebels said their cease-fire is unrelated to a similar move by the military and police but that it could possibly foster preliminary talks to resume long-stalled negotiations.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral cease-fire with communist guerrillas last week to focus on fighting the coronavirus outbreak that prompted him to place the northern third of the country under a strict quarantine. The rebels are active in the northern region, home to more than 50 million people.

Jakarta-based analyst with the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict Sidney Jones said the fight against the global pandemic offers a rare common cause for governments and insurgents.