Rebel leaders, Filipino officials set to sign landmark peace deal

Muslim fighters patrol the camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the southern Philippines on Wednesday.

Story highlights

  • Rebels have been fighting for independence from the Philippines for years
  • After 15 years of talks, they are set to sign a peace deal Monday in Manilla
  • The agreement is to create a new autonomous region administered by Muslims
  • The region in the southern Philippines will be called Bangsamoro

Filipino government officials and Muslim rebel leaders are set to sign a landmark peace deal Monday aimed at ending a long-running insurgency in the nation's troubled south.

The "framework agreement" paves the way for a new autonomous region to be administered by Muslims in Mindanao, President Benigno Aquino III announced earlier this month.

"We're very hopeful of this particular agreement," presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said in a radio interview, according to a report Sunday from the state-run Philippine News Agency.

The deal sets up mechanisms to tackle issues such as power structure and revenues in the southern region, which will be named Bangsamoro. The new region is expected to replace the current one by 2016, when the president's term ends, according to officials.

"It deserves a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao, and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation," the president said.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has fought for decades to set up an independent Islamic state in southern Philippines, having been blamed for a host of attacks and skirmishes that have left tens of thousands dead.

Yet even as this violence unfolded, rebels have been negotiating for 15 years with officials from the Manila-based government.

    Aquino has said the agreement "brings all former secessionist groups into the fold," and that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is no longer seeking to form a new nation.

    The latter group's chairman, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, is set to witness the agreement's signing at Malacanang Palace in Manila, the official home and workplace of the Philippines' president. His group is estimated to have 12,000 members, but military sources say it may have been splintered when government troops conducted offensives in 2000.

    Some leaders of another group, the Moro National Liberation Front, are also expected to attend. Its head, Nur Misuari, had opposed the pact, feeling it wasn't in sync with previous peace deals agreed upon in 1976 and 1996, the state news agency reported. Dean Marvic Leonen, chairman of the government peace panel, explained that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is a rebel group while Moro National "is a political organization."

    Even as preparations continued for the 1:30 p.m. signing, fresh security concerns emerged after a weekend explosion just east of Manila. A "fragmentation grenade" exploded 1:15 a.m. Saturday in the basement of a San Juan building, a report on the president's website said, though there were no reports of injuries.

    After the blast, Valte said there are no known terror threats but the Philippine National Police are on "full alert" status ahead of Monday's signing and visits by several foreign dignitaries, including Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

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