, Manila, Philippines, Jul 19 – The Philippine government’s peace talks with communist rebels teetered near collapse Wednesday as President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to end negotiations after suspected guerrillas shot and wounded five of his bodyguards in an ambush.
Aides said Duterte was not in the convoy when gunmen opened fire on two Presidential Security Group vehicles on the southern island of Mindanao, where troops have also been battling Islamic State group-inspired gunmen for nearly two months.
“The president directed the government panel… not to resume formal peace talks unless the reds (rebels) agree to stop their attacks against government troops in Mindanao,” said a statement issued by the presidential palace.
The rebels have been in off-and-on peace talks with the government since Duterte, a self-described socialist, was elected last year. Both sides have since declared unilateral ceasefires, but these did not last.
Duterte suspended formal peace talks in May after both sides failed to resolve a dispute over a rebel order for fighters to step up attacks.
On Tuesday Duterte separately ordered negotiators to informally meet communist counterparts in Europe in the coming days and raise the issue, Dureza told ABS-CBN television a day later.
But Duterte’s peace adviser Jesus Dureza later announced that the government was also cancelling the planned informal talks with the rebels due to Wednesday’s attacks by the communists’ 4,000-member armed wing the New People’s Army.
The communist party, which is waging Asia’s longest-running insurgency, called on its guerrillas on Tuesday to launch offensives in response to Duterte’s plan to put Mindanao under martial law until the end of the year.
Mindanao is already under a 60-day martial rule as the security forces battle Islamist militants in Marawi city, but on Tuesday the Duterte government said it needed more time to accomplish the mission.
“The situation on the ground necessary to provide the desired enabling environment for the conduct of peace negotiations are still not present up to this time,” Dureza said in a statement.
The communist insurgency began in 1968 and the military says it is now mostly waged in Mindanao. The rebellion has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives.
Wednesday’s ambush appeared to dash hopes for an early political settlement to the insurgency.