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Army chief pushes for local peace talk

By Bobby Q. Labalan SORSOGON CITY --- A localized peace talk between the military and the New People’s Army is now in the works with the army taking the initiative. This was confirmed by Col. Fernando Trinidad, commanding officer of the 903rd Infantry Brigade, in an interview with Bicol Mail as he called on the members of the rebel organization to return to the fold of the law. The army commander said he has started the ball rolling for a possible talk with local guerrilla leaders even as he expressed full support to the on-going peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panels. “We can stop fighting to talk, and if we fail to reach an agreement then we can resume fighting again,” Trinidad said. He added that he has made initial coordination with some sectors who could help push the local peace talk including the church, non-government organizations and community leaders. Trinidad said the government still has the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) wherein rebel returnees are provided with cash grants and livelihood programs. Rebels who surrender with their firearms are given an additional amount, he added. However, Trinidad’s idea was shot down by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)-Sorsogon which also supports the peace negotiations between the government and the NDF at the national level. Rey Hababag, BAYAN-Sorsogon spokesman, said engaging in a local peace talk would only muddle the peace process. “Even as we speak, we hear statements from the military which are different or opposed to the statements of the government peace panel or even the Malacanang,” Hababag stressed. He said holding a separate peace talk at the local level would only complicate the issues and would just cause confusion. Hababag said they are only fully supportive of the peace talks being brokered by the Dutch government which recently resumed in Oslo, Norway. The peace negotiation bogged down earlier this year after Pres. Duterte ordered government negotiators to discontinue the talks with the NDF panel. Immediately after the negotiation was severed, both sides also discontinued the ceasefire which resulted to series of encounters. The latest encounter between army troops and the rebels occurred last March 16 at Barangay Tugas, Matnog. Trinidad said sporadic skirmishes between the two sides are still to be expected despite the declaration of Sorsogon province as “Conflict-manageable, Development-ready” area. “That could not be totally eliminated as of now as the category is just ‘conflict-manageable’ area,” Trinidad explained. In an earlier report, the Sorsogon Police Provincial Office said that a combined police-army team encountered a NPA group of about 30 rebels which resulted to a 20-minute firefight. There was no injuries or casualties cited on both sides. (Mediaworks Communication)

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