02/12/2013, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Mindanao, military and Islamist rebels abandon their weapons and play football

The sports match took place on the historic visit of President Aquino to Maguindanao (Mindanao). The Head of State and the leader of the MILF ready to get to work for a lasting peace. Over 60 dead in clashes in Sulu between Abu Sayyaf and the MILF separatist fringe.

Sultan Kudarat (AsiaNews) - A football match between the military and rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and a parade of traditional boats to mark the first visit of President Benino Aquino to Cotabato City and Sultan Kudarat strongholds of Islamic guerrillas for over forty ' years.

The match was played last night in the Guaio military field (Cotabato). Acclaimed by a crowd of thousands of people, including 12 thousand MILF guerillas, Aquino and Murad Ebrahim, the historical leader of the Islamic Movement, met yesterday to show their sincerity in promoting the peace process. Both announced the future development plans for the region to the public which will be focused on the education of young people and on helping the most disadvantaged families.

Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) and founder of Silsilah group for interreligious dialogue between Christians and Muslims, told AsiaNews that this is "a positive gesture of friendship, which confirms the willingness of both to achieve a lasting peace in the island".

The priest, however, says it is still too early to speak of a real end to the violence in Mindanao, where instead clashes between Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group close to Al-Qaeda, and the fringes of the separatist MILF continue, contrary to the peace agreement with the government. In recent days, more than 60 people, including several civilians, were killed in Sulu in a clash between the two groups.

The president's trip to the Muslim majority island of Mindanao started a week ago.  It is one of the first fruits of the framework agreement on the new autonomous region of Bangsamoro signed at Kuala Lumpur on 15 October 2012. It is a first step to put an end to forty years of conflict between the Philippine army and Islamic rebels that has killed more than 120 thousand people. (S.C.)

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