Philippines, leftist rebels to observe Christmas truce

Philippines, leftist rebels to observe Christmas truce

MANILA - The Philippine military and one of Asia's last communist guerrilla groups said Wednesday they are to call an informal truce over Christmas, bringing some peace to a nation reeling from disasters.

The Communist Party of the Philippines said its New People's Army guerrillas would observe a 48-hour unilateral ceasefire in the mainly Catholic Asian nation from December 24, and another 48-hour truce from New Year's Eve.

The Philippine military chief, General Emmanuel Bautista, said the government would observe its own "suspension of of offensive military operations" against the Maoist rebels over the Christmas period, as it had done in previous years.

"We deserve a break during Christmas. This is a very significant, very important holiday for our people especially now after these major disasters," Bautista told reporters. He did not give specific dates for the effective truce.

Super Typhoon Haiyan left nearly 8,000 people dead or missing when it struck the Philippines' central islands on November 8, inflicting $12.9 billion worth of damage and leaving 4.4 million people homeless, the government said Wednesday.

The economic planning ministry said the government would need $8.17 billion over four years to help the survivors get back on their feet, rebuild hundreds of communities and make both more resilient to future disasters.

The typhoon struck less than four weeks after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit the central islands of Bohol and Leyte, killing more than 220 people.

The guerrillas announced their unilateral holiday truce in a statement sent to AFP.

"This ceasefire declaration is being issued in solidarity with the Filipino people's traditional observance of Christmas and New Year's holidays," its central committee said.

It added the communist New People's Army forces in the typhoon-devastated islands of Samar and Leyte would not attack government forces until mid-January so both groups could help people displaced by Haiyan.

President Benigno Aquino had been aiming to end the rebellion before his six-year term expires in 2016, but the government said in April that peace talks had collapsed.

"It doesn't matter that peace prospects are dim. This is for the Filipino people," General Bautista said.

The Maoist insurgency has claimed 30,000 lives since 1969 according to government estimates, though its armed force is down to about 4,000 guerrillas from more than 26,000 in the late 1980s.

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