Philippine govt signs pact with Muslim rebels

The government of Philippines signed an agreement Monday with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group that both sides say they hope will lessen the chronic violence

Written by New York Times | Manila | Published:October 17, 2012 1:01 am

FLOYD WHALEY

The government of Philippines signed an agreement Monday with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group that both sides say they hope will lessen the chronic violence and poverty that have plagued the southern island of Mindanao.

“Sons and daughters who have had to sweep bullet casings from their yards will now get to pick fruit,” President Benigno S Aquino III said during the signing ceremony. “Families who once cowered in fear of gunshots will now emerge from their homes to a bright new dawn of equity,justice and peace.”

The 13-page framework agreement creates a new political entity that will govern the predominantlyMuslim areas of Mindanao,offering a degree of autonomy and more access to taxes and natural resources. As part of the deal,the 11,000-strong military of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will gradually be disarmed.

The signing Monday was witnessed by Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia,who helped broker the deal. The ceremony marked the first time that the rebel group’s chairman,Al Haj Murad Ebrahim — a former military leader who was once one of the most wanted insurgents in the Philippines — had ever visited the presidential palace. “I come in peace,” Murad said shortly after he arrived.

An important part of the agreement is the establishment of a transition committee that will work out the details. Several hundred people gathered outside the presidential palace Monday to celebrate,though many said they did not have a deep understanding of the pact.

“We are in celebration mode,” said Jolly Lais,secretary general of the Bangsamoro Solidarity Movement,which helped organize the rally. “The framework agreement is an outline. It is a skeleton. We don’t have the details yet,so we don’t have anything to oppose yet.”

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