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Gov’t, MILF reach peace agreement

Historic Accord Promises End To 4 Decades Of Fighting

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — The Philippine government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group completed talks yesterday on a deal to end four decades of fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people and helped foster Islamic extremism in Southeast Asia.

The accord between Filipino negotiators and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) calls for Muslim self-rule in parts of the southern Philippines in exchange for the deactivation of the rebel force. Military presence in the proposed autonomous region would be restricted.

Manila Bulletin

SETTING NEW PEACE MILESTONE (AP) – Miriam Coronel-Ferrer (front left), chairperson of Philippine Government Peace Panel, and Mohagher Iqbal (front right), chief negotiator for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), exchange signed documents as Malaysian facilitator Abdul Ghafar Tengku Mohamed (front center) witnesses after the 43rd GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Jan. 25, 2014.

Much now will depend on how the accord is enforced, in particular whether the 11,000-strong rebel forces are able to maintain security in areas they would come under their control. At least four other smaller Muslim rebel groups are still fighting Manila’s rule in the southern Mindanao region, and could act as spoilers.

Officials from both sides announced the conclusion of talks in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, which has brokered the years-long negotiations. The accord and three other pacts signed last year make up a final peace agreement that is to be signed in Manila, possibly next month, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

“This will give the just and lasting peace that our brothers in Mindanao are seeking,” said Lacierda.

Government negotiators, some teary-eyed, embraced each other after the conclusion of the talks. Chief government negotiator Miriam Ferrer hailed the progress and said “good luck to everyone on the next stage, the implementation stage.”

•Final Annex

The signing of the final annex – the last document to be signed by the two groups – paves the way for the completion of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

The CAB, which comprises of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the four Annexes on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing, Power Sharing, and Normalization as well as the Addendum on the Bangsamoro Waters, will be the basis for the drafting of the BBL that will pave the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro region which will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), it was recalled, was completed on Oct. 15, 2012.

To be drafted by the Transition Commission, the BBL will be certified as urgent by the President, passed by Congress, and subjected to a plebiscite in areas covered by the FAB.

•Significant Progress

Yesterday’s accord marks the most significant progress during 13 years of on-and-off negotiations with the Moro fighters to tame a tenacious insurgency that has left more than 120,000 people dead and derailed development in Muslim-populated southern regions that are among the most destitute in the Philippines.

The United States and other Western governments have supported the talks, worried that rebel strongholds could become breeding grounds for al-Qaeda-linked extremists who have sought sanctuary in the region in the past.

Under the peace deal, the Moro insurgents agreed to end violence in exchange for broader autonomy. An existing five-province Muslim autonomous region is to be replaced by a more powerful, better-funded and potentially larger region to be called Bangsamoro.

•Violence

Despite the milestone, both the government and the rebels acknowledged that violence would not end overnight in a region that has long grappled with a volatile mix of crushing poverty, huge numbers of illegal firearms, clan wars and weak law enforcement.

One rebel group vowed to keep fighting.

“We will continue the struggle,” said Abu Misri, spokesman of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, which broke off from the MILF three years ago. “What we want is an Islamic state, an Islamic people, an Islamic constitution,” he told The Associated Press by telephone yesterday.

Rebels from another group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), took scores of hostages in September when they seized coastal communities in southern Zamboanga  City after accusing the government of reneging on its commitments under a 1996 autonomy deal. Thousands of troops ended the 10-day uprising with a major offensive that killed more than 200 people, most of them insurgents.

Late Friday, four explosions damaged a gymnasium and the main gate of the town hall of Malabang municipality in southern Lanao del Sur province. Police said it was not immediately clear if groups opposed to the talks were involved.

•Major Dividend

Presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles said turning the main Moro rebel group from a major national security concern to a strategic ally would be the major dividend of the talks.

Deles said the joint signing of the annex on Normalization and Addendum on Bangsamoro Waters by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels “is a gift to the Filipino people.”

“This is indeed a long-awaited moment that is a gift to our people at the start of a new year of renewed hope and commitment,” Deles said in a statement.

The accord yesterday outlined the gradual “decommissioning” of the rebel forces, some of whom could be absorbed into a regional security force. Another pact concluded involved the extent of control the proposed autonomous region would wield over resource-rich waters like the Sulu Sea.

•Final Destination

Rebel negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the peace process would not end with the signing of a peace accord. He said that a government-rebel council still needed to complete drafting a law creating the new autonomous region. The legislation then needed to get approval from Philippine Congress, where it is expected to come under intense scrutiny.

Despite the optimism, “let me caution ourselves this early that the final destination of this journey of peace is not within immediate reach yet,” Iqbal said.

A preliminary peace accord that was about to be signed in Malaysia was turned down in 2008 by the Philippine Supreme Court, sparking rebel attacks on Christian communities that provoked a major military offensive and shattered a cease-fire.

•Give Peace A Chance

Earlier yesterday, Malacañang called on all Filipinos to give peace in Mindanao a chance.

“As we stand united in the hope that this process will be concluded successfully, we call on all Filipinos to continue demonstrating the good will and trust that have served as the foundation of our efforts to pursue a just and lasting peace in Mindanao — and of our efforts to spur inclusive growth in the country,” Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

She likewise called on those who are opposed to the peace agreement for their cooperation. (With reports from Francis T. Wakefield and Madel Sabater Namit)

  • PerlasngSilangan

    Let us give the word “PEACE” a chance… Mabuhay ang mga nagsakripisyo nating mga Kababayan mula sa Kasundaluhan at sa mga mamamayan… Mabuhay din ang kasalukuyang Gobyerno at ang mga taong nagtrabaho upang masakatuparan ang peace agreement na ito…