MANILA,  August 22, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva - The government is ready to "walk the extra mile" to reach lasting peace with communist insurgents and Muslim secessionists.

In a statement yesterday, President Arroyo appealed for the resumption of peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

"The yearnings of our people for peace have reached a high point, and we are prepared to walk the extra mile," she said. "It is important that all sides heed the voice of the people, put all extraneous issues aside, and strike a clear path forward towards a durable, just and comprehensive peace."

The conclusion of peace agreements with both the CPP-NPA-NDF and the MILF is one of the items in the 10-point program Mrs. Arroyo laid down during her June 30 inaugural address.

"There is room for every creed and ideology in our democratic society for as long as principled politics, not arms, continue to be the standard of participation," she said.

In his daily Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the heads of the government peace panels were optimistic that peace talks with the two rebel groups, stalled because of various reasons, would resume at the soonest possible time.

Former justice secretary Silvestre Bello III heads the government panel negotiating with the CPP-NPA-NDF, while newly appointed presidential adviser for communications Silvestre Afable Jr. heads the government panel negotiating with the MILF.

The Bello panel’s scheduled talks with the Utrecht-based communist negotiators were postponed after the US and European governments tagged the NPA as a terrorist organization.

The impasse eased after the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF agreed to a ceasefire in Bicol during the release of captured Army personnel 1st Lt. Ronaldo Fedelino and Pfc. Ronel Nemeño last Wednesday.

Bello earlier disclosed that NDF panel chairman former priest Luis Jalandoni had flown to Manila this week under an existing safe-conduct pass to discuss with him the resumption of peace talks.

Bunye said that peace talks with the MILF "seemed to be moving on track."

He said that the Afable panel was in close contact with the Malaysian government, which had agreed to host the peace talks with the MILF in Kuala Lumpur.

"We’re still trying to make arrangements with the host governments and as soon as we have word on the definite schedule of the resumption of the preliminary talks, we would advise media," he said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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