KUALA LUMPUR: The Philippines govt and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will sign a landmark peace agreement after both parties reached a final conclusion to talks here late Saturday, says its embassy.

The final settlement will help usher peace in the mainly Muslim island of Mindanao, the site of a rebel uprising which had led to clashes with government forces that killed thousands in the past four decades.

The peace deal is significant to Malaysia, which offered its assistance to resolve the conflict by facilitating and hosting the talks.

President Benigno Aquino is expected to announce this breakthrough development to the media in Manila shortly.

He is also expected to thank Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razakfor the efforts of the Malaysian Government.

Phillippines Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo J. Malaya described the signing as a new, bright dawn for all Filipinos – Muslims, Lumads, Christians and all others.

“We are deeply grateful to Prime Minister Najib, facilitator Tengku Ghafar and countless others in the Philippines and the international community who laboured patiently and kept faith with President Aquino and panel chair Leonen in the long quest for peace,” he said.

In MANILA, AFP reports that the agreement calls for a new semi-autonomous Muslim area in the resource-rich Mindanao, which the 12,000-strong MILF regards as its ancestral homeland.

“This framework agreement paves the way for a final and enduring peace in Mindanao,” Aquino said in a nationally televised address.

“It brings all former secessionist groups into the fold. No longer does the Moro Islamic Liberation Front aspire for a separate state.”

The MILF hailed the breakthrough, which was achieved in the latest round of peace talks in Malaysia that ended on Saturday, as the “beginning of peace”.

“We are happy and we thank the president for this,” MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar told AFP by phone from his base in Mindanao.

While Aquino did not say when the final peace pact would be achieved, Jaafar said the two sides were aiming for the middle of 2016 when the president’s term ends.

Both Aquino and Jaafar pointed to major obstacles that still needed to overcome before a final peace could be achieved.

Aquino said a final agreement would have to be approved by a plebiscite.

Such approval is not certain in the mainly Catholic country.

A planned peace deal during previous president Gloria Arroyo‘s term crumbled in 2008 at the final moment amid intense domestic opposition.

Jaafar also emphasised the agreement reached over the weekend was just a “road map”, and said there had been no deal yet on significant issues such as the extent of the territory to be included in the new semi-autonomous region.

Neither were details announced on when the MILF’s men would lay down their arms.

There are roughly four million Muslims in Mindanao, which they see as their ancestral homeland dating back to Islamic sultanates established before Spanish Christians arrived in the 1500s.

After decades of Catholic immigration, Muslims are now a minority in Mindanao but they insist they should be allowed largely to govern the region themselves and control its riches.

Mindanao is home to vast untapped reserves of gold, copper and other minerals, as well as being one of the country’s most important farming regions.

The MILF and other Muslim rebel groups have been fighting for independence or autonomy in Mindanao since the early 1970s.

The rebellion has claimed more than 150,000 lives, most in the 1970s when all-out war raged, and left large parts of Mindanao in deep poverty.

The MILF is the biggest and most important remaining rebel group, after the Moro National Liberation Front signed a peace pact with the government in 1996.

The MILF first began peace talks with the government in 1997. They fell apart when then-president Joseph Estrada declared an all-out war against the rebels in 1998.

Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo then brokered a ceasefire with the MILF in 2003 and began peace talks.

But after the 2008 peace deal fell apart, two MILF commanders led attacks on mainly Christian villages in Mindanao, with the unrest killing 400 people and displacing about 750,000 others.

Aquino reinvigorated the peace process in August last year when he met MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim in Japan. Their encounter was the first ever face-to-face talks between a sitting president and a MILF leader.

 

ref: http://thestar.com.my