Philippine rebels declare cease-fire to heed UN chief’s call amid COVID-19 pandemic

The communist insurgency has raged mostly in the Philippine countryside for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 25 March 2020

Philippine rebels declare cease-fire to heed UN chief’s call amid COVID-19 pandemic

  • Communist insurgency has raged mostly in the Philippine countryside for more than half a century
  • Government declared a unilateral cease-fire with communist guerrillas last week to focus on fighting the coronavirus outbreak

MANILA: Communist guerrillas in the Philippines said Wednesday they would observe a cease-fire in compliance with the 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 Thursday to April 15, the Communist Party of the Philippines said in a statement.
The rebels said the cease-fire is a “direct response to the call of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global cease-fire 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 reduced their forces in decades of fighting although the rebels claim they have more armed combatants.
The rebels said their cease-fire is unrelated to a similar move by the military and police but said it can foster the possible holding of preliminary talks to resume long-stalled peace 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.
Duterte launched peace talks with the rebels when he took office in mid-2016. But the negotiations, brokered by the Netherlands, eventually bogged down with both sides accusing the other of continuing to carry out attacks.
Although he has often lashed out at the rebels, Duterte has repeatedly signaled he is open to resuming negotiations with them. In December, he sent an envoy to meet communist rebel leaders on self-exile in Europe to discuss the prospects of resuming peace talks.


Thai protesters challenge king’s military command

Updated 9 min 51 sec ago

Thai protesters challenge king’s military command

  • Protesters accuse the monarchy of enabling decades of military domination
  • The Royal Palace has made no comment since the protests began

BANGKOK: Thai anti-government protesters challenged on Sunday King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s personal control over some army units to condemn the military’s role in politics.
It was the latest open defiance of the king by protesters, who have broken taboos by criticizing the monarchy in a country where it is officially revered under the constitution and laws to ban insulting it.
Hundreds of protesters gathered to march to the 11th Infantry Regiment, one of two units that were moved under the king’s command in 2019.
“An army should belong to the people, not the king,” Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak told reporters. “In a democratic system, the king is not responsible for directing command of the military.”
Protesters accuse the monarchy of enabling decades of military domination.
Parit is among several protest leaders who already face charges under lese majeste laws against insulting the monarchy after his speeches at previous rallies.
Protests which began in July initially demanded the departure of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, and a new constitution, but now also seek to curb the powers of the king.
At the barracks, an advance guard of protesters set about removing razor wire barricades.
The foreign ministry said in a statement that the country adhered to the rule of law, but that the right to freedom of speech must keep within it.
“In every case where the law is violated, officials take action with strict adherence to the appropriate legal processes without discrimination,” the ministry said.
Prayuth has rejected protesters’ demands that he quit along with their accusations that he engineered last year’s election to keep power that he first took from an elected government in 2014.
The Royal Palace has made no comment since the protests began, but the king has said that despite their actions the protesters are loved “all the same.”