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Philippine Leader Declares Christmas Ceasefire - 2001-12-10

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has declared a Christmas cease-fire with the communist New People's Army. The gesture follows a similar offer from the rebels Sunday. This is the latest truce in more than 30 years of fighting between the two sides.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo said in a radio interview Monday, that the government will temporarily halt military action against communist rebels in the country. Her spokesman, Rigoberto Tiglao, says the cease-fire runs from Monday until January 6.

The move comes after Philippine communist guerilla leaders based in the Netherlands issued a unilateral 30-day cease-fire Sunday, to observe the Christmas and New Year holidays.

The government and the communist rebels have traditionally stopped fighting at this time of year. This year, for the first time, the rebels added 15 days to the normal cease-fire period.

Luis Jalandoni, the chief negotiator of the National Democratic Front, the political wing of the communist rebels, says the cease-fire was made on humanitarian grounds, as an act of goodwill over the holiday season.

He says he hopes the cease-fire will open the way for a resumption of stalled peace talks between Manila and the National Democratic Front.

Thousands of people have been killed and displaced in more than 30 years of fighting between the two sides. Early this year, talks in Norway were suspended after several local politicians were assassinated by suspected communist rebels.

Last week, the military arm of the National Democratic Front, the New People's Army was included on a United States list of terrorist groups.

Mr. Tiglao said the inclusion on the list could have prompted the group to extend an olive branch to the government. "We are hoping that it's a sign they are keen on resuming the peace talks because for the first time, the NPA had been declaring 15-day truce ever since, now apparently they declared a 30-day cease-fire, which we think is a good sign that they are willing, they are open to negotiate with us," he said.

The New People's Army joins another rebel group in the Philippines on the U.S. terror list, the Muslim separatist Abu Sayyaf. But Mr. Tiglao ruled out any cease-fire with the Abu Sayyaf rebels, who continue to hold Filipino and American hostages.