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Government and rebels ink landmark deal

Now the hard work begins, say Mindanao bishops

Muslims and Christians come together to celebrate the signing (Picture: Joe Torres) Muslims and Christians come together to celebrate the signing (Picture: Joe Torres)
  • Joe Torres and Cong Corrales, Manila
  • Philippines
  • October 15, 2012
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The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a landmark peace agreement today aimed at ending four decades of conflict on the southern island of Mindanao.

Negotiators from both sides signed the "framework agreement" at the presidential palace in Manila, with President Benigno Aquino and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim looking on, at around 3 pm local time today.

"Today, I extend the hand of friendship to the Filipino people… today we are here to put an end to the adversarial relationship between the Bangsamoro and the Philippine nation," Murad Ebrahim said.

"We signed an agreement that can finally see genuine, lasting peace in Mindanao," Aquino said, adding that the agreement "marks a new chapter” in the country’s history.

Witnesses at the signing included Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who helped broker the deal, and foreign diplomats.

Razak said the new deal is "a chance to restore dignity" to Mindanao.

"We will stand with you to make this agreement work," the Malaysian leader said.

The leftist Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA), a national interfaith network of Muslim and Christian religious leaders, Moro people’s organizations and civil libertarians, welcomed the signing "with guarded optimism."

"The Aquino administration’s public relations-oriented statements tend to create the illusion that a centuries-old conflict is finally resolved. It creates an illusion and concocts false hopes in the public’s minds that peace has finally been achieved," the group said in a statement.

The government's sincerity in forging a lasting agreement with the Moro people will be put to the test when negotiators go into the fine details of the final peace deal, it added.

Catholic bishops in Mindanao also welcomed the signing but said much still needed to be done for a lasting peace.

A statement issued by 11 Mindanao bishops said  the agreement “is not the end of peace-building, rather it is just the beginning of much hard work in cementing the meaning of sincerity, security, sensitivity, solidarity, spirituality, and sustainability in our various communities in Mindanao."

The agreement signed today is also seen as a first step in ending a conflict that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives.

Under the framework deal, the 12,000-strong MILF will have to give up its quest for an independent homeland and instead agree to power and wealth sharing in a new autonomous region in Mindanao.

It is hoped a final peace agreement will be signed in October 2016 before Aquino's term as president ends.

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