Philippine Maoist-led Guerrillas Declare a Christmas Ceasefire

Female guerrillas from the New People's Army perform a cultural show during the release of a Philippines soldier in Sugbongcogon town, Misamis Oriental, southern Philippines, November 20. The rebel group declared a 12-day ceasefire on Tuesday. Froilan Gallardo/Reuters

Philippine Maoist -led rebels on Tuesday declared a 12-day ceasefire to mark Christmas, ordering guerrilla units to halt offensive operations against military targets and businesses from construction and mines to plantations.

The conflict has killed more than 40,000 people and stunted growth in resource-rich rural areas. The 3,000-strong New People's Army, the armed wing of the communist party, operates mainly in the eastern and southern regions of the country.

The unilateral cessation of hostilities will run from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, rebel chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni said in a statement on the rebels' website,

"This ceasefire order is being issued in solidarity with the Filipino people's traditional celebrations of Christmas and New Year holidays," said Jalandoni, a former Catholic priest based in the Netherlands.

He said the truce would also allow rebels to gather to mark the 47th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging protracted guerrilla warfare for 45 years with the aim of overthrowing the government.

There was no immediate response from the government of President Benigno Aquino, which declared a 30-day unilateral truce last year ahead of a visit by Pope Francis in January 2015.

Jalandoni said the rebels hoped the government would respond and declare its own truce, and view the rebel gesture as a basis to resume on-again, off-again, peace talks, brokered by Norway. The two sides had been negotiating since 1986.

The rebels were also demanding that the government free all political prisoners, including 17 guerrillas who are part of the peace negotiations.

The Philippines has a separate truce with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the south of the mainly Catholic country. Last year, the two sides signed a peace deal to end four decades of fighting that has killed 120,000 people.

The government has rejected a ceasefire with a third group that operates in the south, the small but more violent Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to Middle East-based Islamic State. The militants are known for kidnapping, bombing, and beheading hostages.