Philippine military calls holiday truce

The Philippine military on Sunday began a holiday season truce against communist insurgents after the rebels called their own limited ceasefire in typhoon-hit regions, a spokesman said.

The military ceasefire will last from Sunday till January 2, giving soldiers more time to spend with their families and to help victims of Typhoon Bopha which hit the southern Philippines earlier this month, killing more than 1,000.

Military spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Burgos said the ceasefire only covers the communist New People's Army (NPA) and will not extend to "terrorists" like the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf who are active in the southern Philippines.

"We will not launch any offensive operations. But (military) patrols will go on. Checkpoints and other security operations will still continue," he told AFP.

He also said the truce did not mean wanted communist insurgents would be immune from arrest if they emerged from hiding during the Christmas season.

Burgos said the military's unilateral ceasefire was separate from the communist insurgents' own 29-day self-imposed truce that began on December 5 to allow unhampered rescue and relief work for victims of Typhoon Bopha.

He charged that the communists had already violated their own ceasefire twice, in a kidnapping of a soldier's two children and in a raid on a police station that left one policeman dead.

"We hope that they will stay true to their commitment, that their declaration of ceasefire is not mere lip service for propaganda," Burgos said.

The communists have been waging an armed rebellion since 1969, and more than 30,000 people have died in the conflict, according to the government.

The government suspended peace negotiations with the rebels in November last year due to rebel demands for the release of jailed comrades.

The military estimates the NPA's current strength at about 4,000 fighters, significantly down from more than 26,000 at its peak in the 1980s.

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