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Rebel leaders in Philippines concerned over peace plan

Fears grow proposed law for autonomous Bangsamoro region will fail

Joe Torres in Manila and Ferdinandh Cabrera in Maguindanao

Joe Torres in Manila and Ferdinandh Cabrera in Maguindanao

Published: December 13, 2015 05:00 PM GMT

Updated: December 13, 2015 11:26 PM GMT

Rebel leaders in Philippines concerned over peace plan

MILF troops stand guard at a rebel camp in Mindanao. (Photo: Ferdinandh Cabrera)

Moro rebel faction leaders gathered in Mindanao for the first time in more than two decades to voice their concerns over a proposed peace deal.

The show of unity on Dec. 13 came as concerns grow over the lack of progress the Philippine government is making in implementing a peace deal in the country's restive southern region.

"This convergence, unification, and reconciliation meeting aims to strengthen the Bangsamoro people by unifying its leaders," said Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chairman for political affairs of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), during the meeting in Maguindanao province.

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The meeting brought together top commanders from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), some coming from Malaysia, and leaders of the MILF.

The MILF broke away from the MNLF in 1978 reportedly over ideological and political differences.

The meeting came as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed "grave concern" over developments in the peace process in Mindanao and the difficulties facing the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in congress.

The proposed law will eventually create the Bangsamoro, an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao.

The creation of the region is part of the peace deal signed by the Philippine government and Moro rebels in 2014 to end a five-decade old insurgency.

In a statement released Dec. 14, the OIC called on the Philippines "not to let this historical moment become another lost opportunity."

The Philippine Congress has until Dec. 16 to pass the proposed law.


Leaders of various Moro rebel factions meet in Maguindnao province on Dec. 13. (Photo by Ferdinandh Cabrera)


Trouble could lie ahead

The government's chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer has warned that Moro rebel groups might form a new group and launch another war in the country.

If the law is not passed, resentment among the rebels will grow, Ferrer said in a radio interview on Dec. 14.

"If we are not able to implement [the peace accord], some will say, see, now do you believe us? We know how attractive [an option] terrorism can be," Ferrer said.

"That's possible, and it is really frightening," she said.

OIC secretary-general Iyad Ameen Madani said his organization is concerned about amendments to the proposed law that will limit the autonomy granted to the Bangsamoro political entity.

Madani called for the law to guarantee the "concept of exclusivity of the powers of the Bangsamoro political entity" as agreed upon by the government and the MILF in 2014.

The Dec. 13 meeting between of rebel leaders tried to bring back the "glory days" of the rebel movement.

Fighting in Mindanao between government forces and the then-unified MNLF was unofficially called the "genocidal war of the 1970s."

The fighting claimed the lives of some 50,000 soldiers and 120,000 MNLF fighters. More than 500,000 people were displaced with thousands fleeing to Sabah in eastern Malaysia. 

Other groups formed when the rebel movement split and contributed to further conflict in the region, even giving birth to extremist groups like the Abu Sayyaf.

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