MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called off a weeklong cease-fire after communist guerrillas killed a government militiaman and failed to declare their own truce by a Saturday deadline he had imposed.
It was the first irritant in what has been a blossoming relationship between Duterte, who calls himself a left-wing president, and the Maoist guerrillas, who have been waging one of Asia’s longest-running communist insurgencies. Both sides had agreed to resume peace talks next month in Norway, and it was not immediately clear whether the talks would be affected.
After withdrawing his cease-fire order, Duterte issued a statement Saturday evening saying he had ordered all government forces to go on high alert and “continue to discharge their normal functions and mandate to neutralize all threats to national security, protect the citizenry, enforce the laws and maintain peace in the land.”
Duterte, who was sworn in on June 30, declared the government cease-fire Monday during his state of the nation address. Two days later, however, rebels killed the militiaman and wounded four others in southern Davao del Norte province, angering Duterte, who sought an explanation for the attack and gave the insurgents until 5 p.m. Saturday to declare their own cease-fire.
The rebels failed to declare a truce by the deadline, but said they would make an announcement Saturday night.
The militiamen had been recalled from a security mission following Duterte’s truce declaration and were traveling back to their patrol base when they came under rebel attack, the military said.
Duterte flew to Davao del Norte on Friday to attend the militiaman’s wake. Visibly upset, he asked the rebels if they would match his cease-fire.
“If I don’t get the word from you, then I will lift the order of cease-fire,” the president said, adding that he was rejecting rebel demands for him to withdraw government troops and policemen from certain rural areas.
Rebel leaders then asked Duterte to give them more time to study his truce declaration, and the president responded by saying that was “not a good response.”
The decades-long communist insurgency has left about 150,000 combatants and civilians dead since it broke out in the late 1960s. It also has stunted economic development, especially in the countryside, where the Maoist insurgents are active.
It was unclear whether the emerging differences between Duterte and the insurgents would affect the resumption of peace talks scheduled for Aug. 20-27 in the Norwegian capital of Oslo.