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A 40-year conflict which has killed more than 120,000 people is coming to an end. As Philippine President Benigno Aquino III announced yesterday a peace agreement between his government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf) rebels, who have been fighting for a separate state in Mindanao, he was making history. His name will enter history books as the architect of this deal which is expected to bring lasting peace to a country which has been battered by a bloody insurgency for decades.
In an address to the nation, Aquino described the peace deal as a framework agreement which will see the establishment of a new autonomous region in Mindanao, to be administered by Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation. The new region will be called the “Bangsamoro” to replace an existing one, which was created in 1989 and that Aquino called a “failed experiment”.
The Milf hailed the agreement, and its vice-chairman Ghazali Jaafar was quoted as saying “they were happy”. The deal is the result of several rounds of negotiations held in Malaysia, which brokered the deal.
The peace deal will be hailed not only by Filipinos and the neighbouring countries, but the entire world. The decades-long conflict in Mindanao has been one of the biggest hurdles to Philippines’ development and has cost the country heavily in every sense. Mindanao is resource-rich, which is one factor that has fuelled the insurgency. The rebels believed the people of Mindanao were deprived of the fruits of these resources, which they claimed were siphoned off by the government in Manila. The Mindanao problem has been a headache for the international community too. Foreigners who visited the area were kidnapped and ransom demanded for their release, and Western governments had always worried that the rebel strongholds could become breeding grounds for Al Qaeda-linked extremists.
Peace deals in conflict zones often have a history of failing to achieve hundred percent success because of the several complex issues involved, but the Manila-Milf deal has all chances of success. First of all, the peace deal brings all former secessionist groups into the fold. Leaving out even the smallest group would have undermined the deal at a future stage as they would continue the fight. Secondly, the agreement comes at a time when both parties, the government in Manila and the rebels, are tired of the conflict and want an exit route. Both sides have suffered heavily and equally.
At the same time, there could be hiccups while implementing the agreement, which can be sorted out. Acquino’s government can now focus on the development of his country and the rebels have the onerous duty of repairing lives and bringing development to a region which has known only war.