Philippines: peace deal with Moro rebels?

The Philippine government and the country’s largest Islamic rebel group are moving closer to a deal on defining Muslim ancestral, leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have announced. “It’s almost in the bag,” said Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesman. “The two sides are prepared to resume negotiations right after the dust of the elections settles. We’re close to an agreement on the territory issue.” The nearly 40-year-old conflict has killed more than 120,000 people and displaced 2 million in the southern island of Mindanao.

In December, the government peace panel offered to recognize the right of Muslims to self-determination, which Manila has never done in over three decades of fighting and intermittent talks. Manila has offered to expand the six provinces of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with more than 600 villages. The MILF is holding out for an additional 1,000 villages, mostly in Davao and Zamboanga provinces.

“The ball is in the hands of the government,” Mohaqher Iqbal, the rebels’ chief peace negotiator, told Reuters in a telephone interview. “When you deal with the government, it’s not as easy as like buying a carabao [buffalo]. We’re just trying to reclaim the right of every Muslims in the south.”

The ARMM was created as part of peace negotiations with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the oldest Muslim rebel group, that signed a peace deal with government in 1996. (Reuters, May 30)

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