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In the news: Peace and the pandemic

‘Pressures may grow on governments and opposition in polarised situations to find common ground.’

Young Lumad men practise boxing at a displacement camp at a church in Davao City Jared Ferrie/TNH
Young Lumad men practise boxing at a displacement camp at a church in Davao City in 2016. The Lumads have been caught in the middle of the struggle between between the government and the communist New People’s Army.

The coronavirus has sparked at least one positive, if tentative, outcome: a rebel group in the Philippines announced a ceasefire this week. 

The Communist Party of the Philippines said 24 March that it had ordered its armed wing, the New People’s Army, to observe a ceasefire aimed at “fighting the Covid-19 pandemic”. Days earlier, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had declared his own unilateral ceasefire.

Conflict involving the New People’s Army has killed an estimated 43,000 people over decades in parts of the Philippines. 

The coronavirus outbreak is already upending humanitarian responses, and it threatens to destabilise economies and exacerbate crises across the globe. But is it overly optimistic to think that a pandemic can also be an ingredient for peace? 

Elsewhere, a separatist militia in Cameroon also declared a coronavirus ceasefire, the BBC reported, while combatants in Libya agreed on a “humanitarian pause”. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, allied against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, also reportedly announced it would “avoid engaging in military action”.

Big disasters have occasionally played a role in deflating conflicts – the end of a three-decade war in Indonesia’s Aceh following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami being one often-cited example.

“As the devastation spreads and economies shrink, pressures may grow on governments and opposition in polarised situations to find common ground,” the International Crisis Group said in a report this week. 

Still, flickers of peace are also easily extinguished. In Libya, clashes resumed days after the humanitarian pause was announced.

- Irwin Loy

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