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High hopes for Philippines peace deal with Muslim rebels

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The deal is between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, by far the largest of the armed Muslim groups on Mindanao. The MILF includes about 20,000 members in an area with a population of more than 4 million people, most of them Muslim.

The breakthrough in the talks came when negotiators for the MILF stopped insisting that all their members would remain armed until the agreement really takes effect. “We now have a solution to our problem,” MILF Vice Chairman Ghazili Jaafar told local journalists yesterday. The agreement “has been accepted by a majority of the Bangsamoros,” he said.

Uncertainty crept into his comments, though, when he added, “Let’s hope that finally a final agreement will be signed.”

Negotiators are to sign the agreement Oct. 15 in Malacañang Palace under the eyes of Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, but that’s just the first step in a process that has to include a plebiscite among voters in the area covered by the agreement  before it takes effect three or four years from now.

“It’s going to be tough,” says Laisa Alamia, regional chairwoman of the government’s Commission on Human Rights. “We have a government problem, a corruption problem,” she says. “There’s still a lot of work for all the stakeholders to do.”

Powerful clan leaders

The most intractable obstacle to lasting peace is that feuding factions are sure to want to find ways to guarantee their authority. Powerful clan leaders have long defied central government rule while reaching accommodations with Muslim groupings and enriching themselves and their extended families at the expense of citizens who rank among the nation’s poorest.

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