Rebels agree to Philippine peace deal
A HISTORIC agreement to end a 40-year conflict that has killed 120,000 people in the southern Philippines will give wide powers to the leaders of 4 million Muslims.
Hopes are high the agreement reached between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine government, announced yesterday, will lead to armed groups laying down their arms, ending a separatist insurgency that has displaced 2 million people and made Mindanao one of the world's most dangerous places for outsiders to visit.
However the agreement to make the resource-rich Mindanao a new autonomous region will eventually have to be approved by a plebiscite, which observers say could be difficult to achieve in the predominantly Catholic nation.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines, earlier dropped demands for the creation of a separate Muslim state. The group has also renounced terrorism in the region where bombings, kidnappings-for-ransom and beheadings have been common for years.
Announcing the agreement will ''cast aside the distrust and myopia that has plagued efforts of the past'', Philippine President Benigno Aquino said a ''road map'' to peace will lead to the establishment of the autonomous region for Bangsamoro, a name referring to Muslims and non-Muslim minorities in the southern Philippines.
Under the agreement, the region's leaders will be given the power to largely govern themselves, including having the authority to raise taxes, impose royalties and even have a role in internal security. The region is believed to be rich in gold, copper and other minerals.
Mr Aquino said the agreement ''means that hands that once held rifles will be put to use tilling land, selling produce, manning work stations and opening doorways of opportunity for other citizens''.
The agreement, expected to be signed in Manila in a few days, will lead to the establishment of a 15-member Transition Commission, which will have until 2015 to draft a law creating a new entity to replace the current declared autonomous region, which both sides of the conflict agree has been a failure.
Kidnapped Australian Warren Rodwell has been held by the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group in the region since December last year.