Manila (AFP) – The biggest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines signed an historic pact Thursday to end one of Asia’s longest and deadliest conflicts, promising to give up their arms for an autonomous homeland.
Following four decades of fighting that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the peace deal with President Benigno Aquino’s government at a high-profile ceremony in Manila.
“The comprehensive agreement on Bangsamoro is the crowning glory of our struggle,” MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim said at the signing ceremony, using a local term that refers to a Muslim homeland.
“With this agreement the legitimate aspirations of the Bangsamoro and the commitment of the government of the Philippines to recognise those aspirations are now sealed.”
The pact makes the MILF and the government partners in a plan to create a southern autonomous region for the Philippines’ Muslim minority with locally elected leaders by mid-2016.
“What is being presented before us now is a path that can lead to a permanent change in Muslim Mindanao,” Aquino said at the ceremony, attended by more than 1,000 people.
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MANILA — In the southern Philippines, at least 55 people have died and more than 65,000 people have fled their homes while scores of hostages remain in the hands of Muslim rebels. Clashes between government forces and members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have intensified as they entered the seventh day.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines say troops are stepping up their fight in the major port city of Zamboanga against about 200 members of the MNLF.
Armed Forces spokesman, Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan, says the military along with police forces are now carrying out a “calibrated” offensive. But he did not give details of what the measured tactic entails.
Fighting started early Monday morning when the military says it interceded after it learned armed members of an MNLF faction tried to enter Zamboanga to raise a separatist flag at city hall. A faction spokesman has said they wanted to hold a peace rally to drum up support for the creation of an Islamic republic. The military repelled the rebels, who they say took civilians for cover and kept them isolated to five coastal villages on the fringes of Zamboanga.
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