Philippines frees top communist leaders to join peace talks

Wilma and Benito Tiamzon are met by supporters outside police headquarters. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Wilma and Benito Tiamzon are met by supporters outside police headquarters. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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Two top Philippine communist rebel leaders have walked out of a maximum security jail to join next week’s resumption of Norway-brokered peace talks aimed at ending one of Asia’s longest-raging rebellions.

The underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has welcomed the successive releases of 22 detained rebels who are to take part in the 22- 27 August negotiations in Oslo as consultants, saying the move boosts confidence in President Rodrigo Duterte’s determination to find peace.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende will open the talks on Monday at an Oslo hotel, Norway’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Rebel couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon smiled and raised their fists as they stepped out of detention at the national police headquarters, where their supporters greeted them.

In a news conference, they thanked Mr Duterte for their release and for a restart of talks that will tackle wide-raging reforms in a bid to end the conflict.

“These releases are goodwill measures that will create a positive environment for the progress of the peace talks,” Benito Tiamzon said.

His wife called on Filipino youth to become more involved in fighting the “monsters” of society.

“For the Filipino youth and other countrymen now hooked on catching monsters in Pokemon Go, you know, there are so many real monsters in our country,” Wilma Tiamzon said to laughter in the room. “Instead of Pokemon Go, what is better is Revolution Go.”

The insurgency has left about 150,000 combatants and civilians dead since it broke out in the late 1960s, drawing support from the ranks of those dissatisfied with economic inequality and the Philippines’ alliance with the US.

It has also stunted economic development, especially in the countryside, where the rebels are active.

Benito Tiamzon is chairman of the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, according to the military. Wilma is said to be the secretary general.

Their release after posting bail on charges including multiple murders comes after an initial setback to the rebels’ friendly ties with Mr Duterte, who calls himself a leftist president.