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Philippines to halt operations against communist rebels

Al Jazeera logo Al Jazeera 18/6/2017
In the last year, the government has engaged in an on-and-off truce with communist rebels [Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera In the last year, the government has engaged in an on-and-off truce with communist rebels [Reuters]

The Philippine government has announced it would suspend offensives against communist fighters, allowing troops to focus on quelling a bloody siege by ISIL-linked fighters in the country's south.

Silvestre Bello III, chief government negotiator, said on Sunday that the government move is in response to a similar plan by the communist New People's Army rebels.

He did not specify when such a suspension of government offensives would take effect and under what terms.

READ MORE: Peace is still possible in Duterte's Philippines

In the last year the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has been engaged in an on-and-off truce with the communist rebels.

Despite the latest peace overtures, Philippine troops killed five communist fighters in separate clashes in the south while the rebels stormed a police station in a central Philippine island of Leyte and seized a dozen assault rifles and pistols over the weekend, officials said.

Three communist fighters were killed in Davao Oriental province and two others died in Compostela Valley in separate clashes with army troops on Saturday, military officials said.

While in Leyte, about 50 communist rebels stormed a police station and seized 12 rifles and pistols, and other equipment, according to the police.

The rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that they waged the assault to punish police officers, whom they accused of being involved in extortion, gambling and distribution of illegal drugs.

Fighting two fronts in Mindanao

While Duterte has pursued talks with the communist rebel, he has expressed outrage over continuing attacks.

The rebels have also protested what they said were continuing military assaults on their rural strongholds.

The accusations and other differences have hampered negotiations being brokered by Norway, causing a scheduled round of talks to be canceled in May.

The communist rebels have been waging one of Asia's longest-running armed rebellion, which has left tens of thousands dead.

Separately, the government is also fighting Muslim armed fighters in the southern island of Mindanao.

Thousands of troops and police have been deployed to end a 27-day siege by fighters aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in the southern city of Marawi.

The siege in Marawi has forced Duterte to declare martial law in the southern island.

The intense fighting has left at least 242 fighters, 56 soldiers and policemen and 26 civilians dead and turned the heartland of the Muslim-majority city into a battlefield, and displaced 300,000 people.

The US military has deployed a spy plane and drones to help troops end the insurrection, which was started by an estimated 500 ISIL-fighters, including foreign operatives.

The military said more than 100 fighters are holed up in the city, holding an unspecified number of civilian hostages.

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