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Manila Defense Chief Urges Cut in Army, Rebel Forces for Peace

January 11, 1987|Associated Press

MANILA — Defense Minister Rafael Ileto proposed Saturday that both the Philippine armed services and Communist guerrilla forces cut down in size as a step toward peace.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that Ileto proposed reducing the country's 250,000-strong armed forces provided the Communist insurgents do the same. The ministry said the plan is aimed at salvaging peace talks between the government and the Communist-led National Democratic Front before a 60-day cease-fire runs out on Feb. 8.

Negotiations began last Tuesday, but were adjourned until next Tuesday after the two sides failed to agree on an agenda.

Armed forces chief of staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos told reporters that the Defense Ministry proposal to reduce strength is a "very long-range plan," although it could be started soon.

Neither Ramos nor Ileto gave any indication of how big the proposed cuts would be, and National Democratic Front officials were not immediately available for comment. The insurgent New People's Army is estimated to have about 23,500 combatants nationwide.

The rebels have demanded that the New People's Army be integrated with the regular armed forces if a political settlement of the 18-year insurgency is reached. The government rejected this, along with a rebel demand for a coalition government.

Rebel, military, religious and government leaders in eight provinces on southern Mindanao island announced Saturday that they signed an agreement to continue regional peace negotiations if the national talks break down. The announcement came at a conference in Cagayan de Oro, where Satur Ocampo, the National Democratic Front's chief negotiator, accused the government of stalling the national talks.

Meanwhile, President Corazon Aquino stumped northern Luzon, a former stronghold of ousted President Ferdinand E. Marcos, advocating approval of a draft constitution in a Feb. 2 plebiscite.

She told a rally of about 5,000 people that ratification "will strengthen our democracy so that the days of oppression in the past will not return."

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