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Duterte gives rebel fighters luxury trips

The Philippines has sent scores of former communist rebels on an all-expenses paid foreign shopping trip, to end one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies.

President Rodrigo Duterte flew 88 mostly female ex-rebels from the New People's Army on a four-day visit to Hong Kong last week, delivering on a pledge he made to former guerrillas in 2018.

Mr Duterte has urged the communists to lay down their arms with promises of housing, financial and employment assistance, as well as trips abroad.

The novel tactic came almost two years after Manila shelved formal talks with NPA gunmen, saying the Maoists had no interest in making peace.

Photos shared by the military showed the former rebels, all but four of them women, smiling and posing in front of the wealthy Chinese city's skyscrapers and holding plastic bags of souvenirs.

They also visited Hong Kong's historical sites and shopping centres, using their "substantial amount of allowance" for their purchases, regional military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ezra Balagtey said.

"It's part of the therapy for them to have a different perspective in life," Mr Balagtey added.

At the same time as pampering the ex-rebels, Mr Duterte has ordered the military to "destroy" the Maoist rebellion that has killed up to 40,000 people.

The 4,000-member NPA is one of the deadliest armed groups in the Southeast Asian nation and it finds a fertile ground for recruitment among the rural poor.

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