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Philippines And Muslim Rebels Set To Sign Key Peace Plan
Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-19944101
Source Date: Monday, October 15, 2012
Country: Philippines
Created: Oct 14, 2012

The Philippines is set to sign a peace plan with the country's largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The framework deal follows long negotiations aimed at ending a 40-year conflict that has cost an estimated 120,000 lives.

The agreement was reached in early October after talks in Malaysia.

It provides for a new autonomous region in part of the south where Muslims are a majority in a mainly Catholic nation.

MILF leader Murad Ebrahim and other senior members of the group arrived in the capital Manila on Sunday for the signing, reports said.

It is due to take place in the presidential palace, making Murad Ebrahim, said to be in his 60s, the first MILF leader to visit the palace. Officials confirmed his arrival amid tight security, but gave few other details.

In a statement following the announcement of the deal, he said it laid down "firm foundations of a just and enduring peace formula".

"The forging of the framework agreement, however, does not mean the end of the struggle for it ushers a new and more challenging stage."

'Comprehensive deal' needed

President Benigno Aquino, who announced the deal a week ago, also warned that there was still much work to be done.

Previous peace efforts have broken down and negotiations with the MILF over the last 15 years have been interrupted by violence.

A copy of the framework deal says the parties are to commit to reaching a "comprehensive deal" by the end of the year.

It is hoped that the agreement could be implemented on the ground by the end of Mr Aquino's term in 2016.

Both sides in this deal know it is only the beginning - the agreement is just a framework and many more details need to be added, says the BBC's Kate McGeown in the Philippines.

But for now, Filipinos are cautiously optimistic that they are one step closer to peace, our correspondent adds.

Muslims held a vigil in Manila over the weekend to show support for the agreement.

The new autonomous region would be named Bangsamoro, after the Moros - or Moors, which was how the Spanish used to refer to the followers of Islam - living there.

The draft agreement would give the leaders of Bangsamoro more political and economic powers, and provides for the gradual transfer of law enforcement from the army to the Bangsamoro police in a "phased and gradual manner".

The MILF, created after a split with another rebel group in 1977, had earlier dropped its demand for an independent Muslim state.

The Philippines has faced separatist movements for decades in Mindanao, where the MILF is based, and in Jolo, home to the radical Islamist Abu Sayyaf group, which is reputedly linked to al-Qaeda.

Communist rebels have also waged a guerrilla conflict over parts of the country from 1969.
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