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Philippines declares Christmas truce against Communist rebels


(FILES) Photo taken on December 26, 2009 shows New People's Army (NPA) rebels making a formation during the 41st founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines at an unspecified location in the hinterlands of Surigao del Sur province, in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Photo: AFP

The president of the Philippines Wednesday declared a unilateral truce with Communist rebels of the New People's Army (NPA) for Christmas.

"It's time for the cessation of hostilities. You can come down, be with your family, enjoy the celebrations and we will pray together," Rodrigo Duterte said during an address to the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Manila.

According to media reports, military operations will be halted between Dec. 23-27 and between Dec. 31-Jan.2.

Duterte also extended the invitation to other rebel groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is active on the southern island of Mindanao, ABS-CBN channel reported.

In previous years, the government and the NPA, the armed wing of the illegal Communist Party of the Philippines, have declared Christmas truces, which were violated after violent clashes broke out.

Duterte's presidential election victory spurred dialogue with the Communist rebels due to his conciliatory stance and readiness to release some rebel prisoners as an act of "good faith".

Both sides began preliminary talks in Oslo in June and agreed the following month to restart negotiations.

A permanent ceasefire was one of the issues on the agenda of the talks in Oslo, along with other issues, including amnesty for Communist prisoners.

The Communist Party of the Philippines was formed in 1968 as a clandestine political organization whose main objective was to overthrow the government.

The New People's Army, the armed wing of the party, has some 6,000 regular fighters and has been engaged in a conflict that has claimed nearly 30,000 lives in the past decades.

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