The Philippines on Wednesday canceled talks with Maoist-led rebels due on the weekend in the Netherlands after guerrillas attacked a convoy of President Rodrigo Duterte’s security men, killing a paramilitary guard and wounding six.
Duterte was not in the area on the southern island of Mindanao when the clash between the presidential guards and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels erupted early on Wednesday.
But the incident was basis enough for peace adviser Jesus Dureza to call off informal, “back channel” talks with exiled leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines aimed at restarting a stalled peace process.
“The situation on the ground necessary to provide the desired enabling environment for the conduct of peace negotiations are still not present,” Dureza said in a statement.
Maoist-led rebels have been waging a guerrilla war for nearly 50 years to overthrow the government.
The conflict has killed more than 40,000 people and stunted growth in poor but resource-rich rural regions.
The peace process, an important initiative of Duterte, has been fraught with breakdowns, with both sides abandoning unilateral ceasefires in February, blaming each other for launching attacks while talks were going on.
Duterte on Tuesday met his negotiators dealing with the communists, and told them not to agree to a bilateral ceasefire until the NPA ceased attacks on troops. He also called the political leadership to keep its fighters under control.
The clash at a checkpoint came a day after Duterte asked Congress to extend martial law until the end of the year to tackle rising Islamist militancy.
The Philippines has been beset by separate communist and Muslim insurgencies in various parts of the country for decades.
Communist and Muslim rebels both operate on Mindanao, stretching the military on multiple fronts on the island of 22 million people.
Government forces are battling to defeat Islamic State-inspired rebels who have occupied the heart of the island’s Marawi City for 58 days, while operations continue on islands to the west of Mindanao against Abu Sayyaf rebels behind kidnappings and piracy.
Military chief Eduardo Ano said the Maoist rebels were exploiting the security crisis.
“That’s why you are seeing now an increase in the intensity of encounters nationwide,” he said, adding two marines were also killed by rebels on Palawan island.
Documents obtained by the army showed Maoist rebel leaders had ordered guerrillas to step up attacks after martial law was imposed in Mindanao on May 23, Ano said.