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.


Iranian man arrested over deaths of family in English Channel

Updated 31 October 2020

Iranian man arrested over deaths of family in English Channel

  • He faces manslaughter charges after migrant couple and two of their children drowned when the boat they were in capsized

LONDON: An Iranian man has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of four members of an Iranian-Kurdish family in the English Channel.

Rasoul Iran-Nejad, 35, Shiva Mohammed Panahi, 35, and their children Anita, 9, and Armin, 6, drowned on Tuesday after the boat they were in capsized as they attempted to cross the Channel from France.

Their 15-month-old son, Artin, and two people are still missing. An official from the French coastguard said there is no hope of finding any more survivors, after a search-and-rescue operation in “unfavorable” conditions was called off on Tuesday night.

The Iranian suspect was allegedly piloting the semi-rigid vessel, which was carrying 22 people from the Grande-Synthe migrant camp near Dunkirk, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper. Dunkirk prosecutor Sebastien Pieve said the man was arrested after survivors who were taken to hospital gave statements to police.

“He told us he was just a migrant but the information we have gathered against him, notably from 13 others who were interviewed, suggests that he is close to the smugglers and his claims do not stand up,” Pieve said.

The man, who is in provisional custody, is under investigation and faces charges of involuntary homicide, endangering the lives of other people, helping “illegals” as part of an organized gang, and criminal association, according to reports. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to 10 years and be deported from France after serving his sentence.

Pieve said an aim of the police inquiries is to dismantle the smuggling ring responsible for the people being on the vessel.

A growing number of migrants are attempting risky journeys across the Channel in small, dangerous vessels provided by smugglers because of a reduction in the number of commercial sea crossings between the UK and France as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 7,400 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year, compared with about 1,800 during the whole of 2019, according to Press Association calculations.