02/20/2012, 00.00
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Manila open to Muslim rebels peace proposal

It provides for greater autonomy in the autonomous region of Mindanao, with the birth of a parliament and a government inspired by the Malaysian system. Kuala Lumpur hosts peace talks, which resumed in March with a new round of meetings. North Cotabato: a prison attacked, three dead and 15 wounded.

Manila (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Manila is reported to welcome the proposal made by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), for greater autonomy and self-determination in the southern Muslim majority region of Mindanao. From February 13 to 15 in Malaysia, the Philippine government and rebel leaders have held a new round of talks aimed at reaching a political agreement that puts an end to decades of bloody wars. Meanwhile in Kidapawan City in North Cotabato province, a group of 50 armed men stormed a prison in an attempt to free some prisoners, killing at least three and leaving 15 wounded. The incident occurred late last night and, according to police, was the work of members of the MILF, but the group rejects any wrongdoing.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, says that "the Philippine President Benigno Aquino has endorsed the proposal" of the Islamic rebels: It provides for the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) a parliamentary-style government, similar to that existing in Malaysia. Among others, there will be direct elections of the people's representatives, that will be coordinated by a Chief Minister with a government function. This new agreement provides for the end of the autonomous region as it is structured, with a territorial extension, which covers the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao. However, it is not clear whether and what other areas will be included in the new autonomous region.

The three days of talks between the Philippine government and MILF rebels in Kuala Lumpur ended on 15 February. A joint statement was released, scheduling further meetings to discuss the the regional administrative system and powers reserved to the central government. Marvic Leonen, chief negotiator on behalf of Manila, said that "the peace process with the MILF has taken a step forward" and "the day will come, hopefully very, very soon, where we will be able to sign a peace agreement ".

The predominantly Muslim region of Mindanao has for over 40 years been the scene of a conflict between Philippine army and Islamic extremist groups. MILF claims the secular Muslim domination of the island, to establish an independent Islamic state. After 10 years of ceasefire, the fighting resumed in 2008 because of tensions within the coalition of the Arroyo government, causing over 750 thousand displaced between Christians and Muslims and several hundred deaths. In September 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, MILF and government authorities restarted negotiations to end the conflict, but so far neither side has signed a definitive agreement.


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