Maoist rebels extend truce in Philippine disaster areas

November 24, 2013 10:20 AM

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TACLOBAN, Philippines (Reuters) - Maoist rebels extended on Sunday for another month a unilateral ceasefire in areas devastated by typhoon Haiyan in the central Philippines, ordering guerrillas to help distribute food, water and other relief supplies in coastal and mountain villages.

Haiyan, the biggest storm ever to make landfall, struck the central Visayan islands on November 8, killing more than 5,200 people, displacing 4.4 million and destroying about 12 billion pesos ($274 million) in crops, property and infrastructure.

Five days after the typhoon struck, the rebels announced a 10-day ceasefire to help distribute supplies to millions of farmers and fishermen. That truce ended on Sunday.

The 3,000-member New People's Army (NPA) has been waging a guerrilla war since the late 1960s to overthrow the government. The conflict has killed 40,000 people and discouraged investment in poor but resource-rich rural communities.

The government has not reciprocated the rebels' gesture but called on the guerrillas to agree on an indefinite ceasefire as both sides engage in backroom talks to restart peace negotiations, brokered by Norway, but stalled since 2011.

"We didn't make any declaration of ceasefire even after the typhoon. They are enemies of the state," Major-General Jet Velarmino, army commander on the islands of Samar and Leyte, told Reuters in an interview on Saturday.

"While my forces right now from the 8th Infantry Division are focused on humanitarian assistance, disaster rescue operations, we still have a component in my division addressing our internal security operations."

Soldiers are guarding plants and transmission networks as teams work round-the-clock to restore power. The country's largest geothermal plant is on Leyte island.

Aid delivery is gathering pace as access to affected areas improves, the U.N. humanitarian office said. Difficulties remain, however, including distribution of food and access to clean water and shelter materials.

In its statement, the rebel group criticised what it said was the slow response of President Benigno Aquino's government to the disaster and ordered its forces in unaffected areas to raise funds and gather supplies.

It accused the authorities of failing to carry out land reform and encouraged farmers to seize land to rebuild their livelihood.

"Farmers cannot rely on big landlords to help in rebuilding their lives and agriculture in typhoon devastated areas," the statement said. "The occupation of vast lands is just, in the face of the Aquino regime's ineptitude and incompetence in helping out the survivors and victims of the typhoon."

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in TACLOBAN and Manuel Mogato in Manila; Editing by Ron Popeski)


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