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Real chance of peace as landmark deal is signed

Government and MILF agree on accord to create new nation

Real chance of peace as landmark deal is signed
Government chief peace negotiator Marvic Leonen, left, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, right
Joe Torres and Ali Macabalang, Manila

October 8, 2012

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The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) reached a major breakthrough yesterday with a "framework peace agreement" to stop almost four decades of conflict in Mindanao that has killed more than 120,000 people. "We have been waiting for this for many, many long years," said Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF’s vice-chairman for political affairs. In a speech yesterday President Benigno Aquino announced that a new political entity, called the Bangsamoro or Moro nation, will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Aquino described the ARMM, created  in 1989 by his mother, former president Corazon Aquino, a "failed experiment." He said the new agreement will pave the way for "a final, enduring peace in Mindanao" and will bring "all former secessionist groups into the fold. "This means that hands that once held rifles will be put to use tilling land, selling produce, manning work stations and opening doorways of opportunity," Aquino said. Jaafar said the Moro people are "happy" with the agreement. The agreement prescribes the establishment of a 15-member "transition commission" that will thrash out the details of the deal and draft a law creating the Bangsamoro political entity in two years. The MILF will have to undertake a "graduated program" to disband their forces and decommission their weapons "so that they are put beyond use," the agreement said, without specifying a timetable. Government officials said the accord is expected to be signed in Manila on October 15. President Aquino said the creation of the new political entity will have to pass through Congress and a referendum will be held to ensure all stakeholders will be involved in the process before it is finally implemented. The president described the deal as a road map for establishing the new political entity to be administered by Muslims in the predominantly Catholic country. Catholic Church leaders welcomed the news, saying the agreement is a step toward achieving peace in Mindanao. "We have suffered a lot and any small step to peace is a sign of hope for peace," said Bishop Martin Jumoad of Basilan. However, he said people should be guided in the implementation of the agreement. "We have to be vigilant…. There must be total education," the prelate said. "I hope there is respect of religion in this Bangsamoro," he added. Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato called the framework agreement a "landmark" in the "long and arduous road to peace." He said he hopes a more permanent peace agreement with "determination, patience, goodwill, sincerity and transparency" will soon be implemented. The United States also welcomed the agreement. "While much work remains, successful implementation of this agreement would improve security, stability, and development for the people of Mindanao," said US ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. in a statement. He said the United States "will continue to look for ways to support the people of Mindanao as they accelerate broad-based and inclusive growth." The adoption of the agreement followed marathon negotiations between the government and the MILF in Malaysia. Related reports Negotiators say peace is near Optimism grows over peace talks
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