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Date: Wed, 14 Jan 1998 04:11:58 -0500
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From: Alex G Bardsley <bardsley@ACCESS.DIGEX.NET>
Subject: Fwd: PH: Communist leader returns from exile (SCMP)
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Rebel leader returns after 11 years

South China Post, Wednesday 14 January 1998

DEUTSCHE PRESSE—AGENTUR in Manila A high-ranking communist leader, in self-imposed exile in the Netherlands for 11 years, returned to the Philippines yesterday for talks with rebel forces and human rights groups.

Luis Jalandoni, chief negotiator for the National Democratic Front (NDF), was accompanied by his wife, Coni Ledesma, another member of the rebel panel holding peace talks with Manila in Holland.

Mr Jalandoni said the visit would help prepare for discussions on social and economic reforms, expected to begin once the two sides wrapped up an agreement on international humanitarian law at the end of this month in The Hague.

It follows last week's signing of an accord on human rights.

This is a most opportune time to start the negotiations on socio-economic reforms because of the rapidly deepening crisis in the country as a result of policies of deregulation, privatisation and liberalisation, Mr Jalandoni said on arrival.

While in the Philippines, he and his wife would be protected by a safe conduct agreement between the Government and the NDF.

In contrast, the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Jose Maria Sison, claimed his life would be in jeopardy if he returned. He is fighting court decisions denying him asylum in the Netherlands.

Mr Jalandoni and Ms Ledesma were scheduled to visit political prisoners, striking workers, displaced peasants and ethnic minorities, as well as holding talks with the revolutionary underground forces, the legal democratic movement, church leaders and government officials.

Mr Jalandoni is also scheduled to speak at the first Philippines Foreign Correspondents' Association conference on economic and political prospects in the country.

Ms Ledesma will be addressing women groups and other activist organisations. But her husband said they would fly back to the Netherlands for the next round of peace talks but would then return to the Philippines to continue our consultations.

The Government and the NDF have been holding protracted negotiations on what is one of Asia's longest-running leftist insurgencies for nearly four years.

The talks have been derailed several times, most recently after an upsurge in guerilla attacks.

The Government estimates the communist forces currently number no more than 7,000, down from a peak of 25,000 in the 1980s.