|Manila faces challenges of pact with secessionist Muslims
Philippine government signed a peace accord with the largest Muslim rebel group today.
The deal grants largely Muslim areas of the southern Mindanao region greater political autonomy in exchange for an end to armed rebellion. But it will not stop all violence. Implementing the ambitious accord also will be challenging, AP reports.
Aquino and leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front witnessed the signing of the agreement in the presidential palace in Manila. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose country brokered the peace talks, attended the ceremony.
“In signing this agreement, the two sides have looked not to the problems of the past, but to the promise of the future,'' Najib said. “After so many years of conflict, and so many lives lost, it is a momentous act of courage.''
About 1,000 people attended the signing ceremonies, including guerrilla commanders wearing business suits.
“For generations, fellow Filipinos in the [southern Mindanao] region were embroiled in a cycle of poverty, injustice, and violence,'' Aquino said. “If we are to truly address the root causes of conflict, we must close the gap between the region and the rest of Filipino society.''
The peace accord concludes formal negotiations that began in 2001.
More than 120,000 people have died in separatist violence since the 1970s in Mindanao, the main southern Philippine island. It is home to most of the country's 5 million Muslims, but Christians remain the overall majority.
Other insurgent groups in the south have vowed to keep fighting for full independence. The region is also home to the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim extremist network with international links that the Philippine army is battling with American support.
“I will not let peace be snatched from my people again,'' Aquino said. “Not now, when we have already undertaken the most difficult and most significant steps to achieve it. Those who want to test the resolve of the state will be met with a firm response based on righteousness and justice.''
Under the accord, called the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front agreed to end violence and a demand for separate state in exchange for broader autonomy.