07/16/2013, 00.00
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Manila's deal with Muslim rebels leaves everyone unhappy, but brings hope for peace

"There is a lot of grumbling," a Catholic source tells AsiaNews. "There is a perception that money and positions of power are going to a group that did not live up to its commitments in the past. However, we must continue to hope in a better future. "

Manila (AsiaNews) - The peace agreement between the Filipino government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front "is not easy to understand. On the one hand, there is a lot of grumbling, especially among Christians, who do not trust what Muslims might do. On the other, there is hope that history, after 40 years, will not repeat itself and that we shall reach true peace," a Catholic source, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews.

After eight months of negotiations, representatives of the Filipino government and of Mindanao separatists signed in Kuala Lumpur a first basic agreement on the economic and political life of the predominantly Muslim province.

However, the final deal seems to have upset a good portion of the Filipino population, which accuses the government, and President Benigno Aquino, of "selling out" the natural resources of the area.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is an armed group that has been trying to achieve independence for mineral-rich Mindanao for the past few decades. The war has cost the lives of thousands of people and has prevented the parties from exploiting the area's rich mineral resources worth an estimated US$ 312 billion.

At present, local per capita income is around US$ 599 a year, about a quarter of the national average and the lowest in the country's 17 regions.

In Kuala Lumpur, where the talks were held, an agreement in principle was reached that would allocate to the newly formed local government 75 per cent of all revenues from gold, copper, zinc, lead and other mineral resources extracted from the autonomous areas.

In addition, half of the proceeds from the sale of locally generated energy would be in MILF's hands.

Local taxes and annual grants to finance and manage autonomy are now on the table. However, the real hurdle will be the rebels' disarmament, which is under discussion at present.

The government wants a complete ceasefire with all weapons handed in. The rebels want a certain margin to retain a local police force.

Christians, the source told AsiaNews, "have always been wary of these forms of agreement. It is an old story, which starts with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF, created in the 60s), the first group that sought Mindanao independence. Even though an agreement was reached, it did not lead to anything. After the signing, in fact, the group split, giving rise to the MILF, and now the thing is repeating itself. "

The danger, he added, "is that in the end people only talk about money. When autonomous regions are set up, the leaders of the various groups take money and positions of power, and show little interest in keeping the peace or their pledges."

"Even now, the MILF split and its breakaway members have created another group (the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters was set up in 2008 for the purpose of total independence). The fear is that in a few years we shall have to deal with them again."

However, the source concluded by noting that "there is always hope that this time might be the beginning of something different and better."

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