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Tuesday, 12 February 2013






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Government Gazette

Aquino visits rebel stronghold

PHILIPPINES: Philippine President Benigno Aquino paid a historic visit Monday to rebel territory in a bid to speed up efforts to end one of Asia’s longest and deadliest insurgencies.

Four months after his government agreed on a roadmap with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for a final peace deal by 2016, Aquino travelled to the insurgents’ stronghold in the far south as a confidence-building measure.

“We have just three years and four months left. We have to speed up everything we are doing now to make this (peace) permanent,” Aquino said on a stage alongside MILF chief Murad Ebrahim just outside the rebels’ main base.

The deadline for peace coincides with the end of Aquino’s six-year term as President. The constitution limits him to one term and there are concerns that the next president may not be able, or may not want, to pursue the peace agenda.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting since the 1970s for independence in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic Philippines that the country’s Muslim minority claim as their ancestral homeland.

An estimated 150,000 people have died in the conflict with Muslim rebels, although a ceasefire in place since 2003 has largely held. However Aquino expressed confidence that the negotiations would yield significant results within weeks, and that a final peace pact could be achieved by 2016. “We’re very close to agreements on all the points,” he said.

The key event on Monday, held just outside the MILF’s heavily fortified Camp Darapanan, was the launch of joint development projects seen by both sides as crucial to the peace process. It was the first peace mission by a president to the MILF’s powerbase.

Then-president Joseph Estrada travelled to the area in 2000 but only at a time of heavy fighting, shortly after government troops overran another base that was then the rebels’ main camp.

Estrada infamously brought pork and beer to the Muslim areas so government troops could celebrate their victory.



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