“The challenges are great, but the possibilities for a peace agreement under the new presidency of Benigno Aquino are there,” Ambassador Ture Lundh of Norway’s foreign ministary said. “At the end of the day, however, it is the parties to the conflict that must prove decisiveness, boldness and political will to move forward, to achieve a just and lasting peace.”
By MACEL INGLES
OSLO — Six years after the last informal talks held in Oslo, respective representatives of the peace panel from the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) arrived in the city on Friday, Jan. 14, to once again face each other across the negotiating table in the hopes of putting the peace process back on its tracks.
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The Philippine panel led by newly appointed chief peace negotiator Alexander Padilla and NDF panel led by its chairman Luis Jalandoni will try to iron out issues between the two parties and agree on the agenda in preparation for the formal opening of the peace talks next month.
In December, both Jalandoni and Padilla met in Hongkong, paving the way for the possibility of the formal resumptions of the peace talks between Manila and the NDF.
The long and winding road to peace is not lost on Oslo, the third-party facilitator to the talks. Ten years after Norway first played host to the peace talks in 2001, a peace agreement is nowhere in sight. In fact, as the informal talks opened, the Norwegians see great challenges ahead in the opening of the informal talks.
“The peace process is a marathon indeed, not a sprint, and we expect ups and downs along the road. We have, as the third-party facilitator, a long-term perspective on this. Thus, we are patient: I am neither an optimist or a pessimist with regard to the near future,” Ambassador Ture Lundh, special envoy to the foreign ministry, said in an email interview.
As facilitator, Oslo had been witness to several attempts to salvage the process since it hosted the first formal talks in April 2001. Since then, the process had been marred by many complications, among them the terrorist listing of the CPP-NPA-NDF by the US and the EU, the accusation from the NDF that the government has reneged on the agreement on the indemnification of human-rights victims, the suspension of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee (Jasig) by the Philippine government, and the subsequent filing of rebellion charges against NDF political consultant Jose Maria Sison and Jalandoni and several other NDF members and consultants in 2006.
Although there is no official release of the agenda in the informal talks, several issues hang over the upcoming negotiations. Some of these include the NDF’s demand for the release of captured NPA leader Tirso “Ka Bart” Alcantara and the military’s insistence that landmines and revolutionary taxes be taken up in the talks.
Despite the odds, the Norwegians expects “cordial, constructive and productive talks to take place in Oslo these next few days — in order for all of us to prepare well for the resumption of formal talks.” They also promised to “do (their) part to provide support and offer advice to both parties.”
“The challenges are great, but the possibilities for a peace agreement under the new presidency of Benigno Aquino are there,” Lundh said. “At the end of the day, however, it is the parties to the conflict that must prove decisiveness, boldness and political will to move forward, to achieve a just and lasting peace.”