The Philippines declared a unilateral truce with New People’s Army rebels through Christmas and New Year to allow soldiers and villagers in conflict areas to celebrate the holidays peacefully.

The 18-day suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) supersedes an informal truce declared by both camps on Dec. 10 to make way for ensuing search, rescue and relief operations in the disaster-hit southern region of Mindanao, which is considered a rebel stronghold.

“The objective of this unilateral implementation of the Yuletide SOMO against the NPA is to demonstrate the AFP’s commitment, sincerity and resolve for peace in spite of conflicts with the insurgent group,” military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr. told The Philippine Star.

The ceasefire, which runs until Jan 2, is also aimed at letting forces focus on relief efforts in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental, where the super typhoon Bopha swept away whole families in flash floods and landslides, leaving more than 900 dead and 850 still missing.

“Many of our men and women are working round the clock conducting search, rescue and relief operations in disaster-stricken areas,” Burgos said, adding that the armed forces were not taking any chances despite the ceasefire and remain on full alert.

The Philippine government has been fighting communist rebels for more than 40 years of violent clashes that have claimed thousands of lives, Reuters reports.