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Philippine president asks exiled Maoist leader to return home for talks

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MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday he had invited a self-exiled Communist rebel leader home for “make or break” peace talks, and would let him leave the country afterwards, despite moves to declare him a terrorist.

Before becoming president, Duterte promised to revive a stuttering peace process to end nearly five decades of conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people.

But that effort has been fraught with problems and he abandoned talks in November, complaining of duplicity and repeated rebel attacks.

On Thursday, Duterte said he had invited Jose Maria Sison, founder and leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines, to return after three decades in exile to restart the stalled negotiations.

“He has agreed, and I gave him a window of two months, very small,” he said.

“I will see to it and will personally escort him to the airport,” Duterte added, promising to let Sison return to exile in the Netherlands, regardless of the outcome.

Sison made no immediate comment on Thursday regarding Duterte’s remarks, but had expressed readiness last week to return home for talks.

Duterte has repeatedly threatened to abort the peace process completely, but appears unwilling to do so.

Sison was once Duterte’s university lecturer and the two are known for hurling colourful insults at each other.

Sison has lived in Europe since the late 1980s, after his release from jail following the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. This week, he told ABS-CBN news he was willing to come home to resume talks.

The government has asked a court to declare Sison and hundreds of CPP and NPA members “terrorists”. It is not clear if Duterte’s latest olive branch will affect that request.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Clarence Fernandez)

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