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Philippine Government, Moro Islamic Liberation Front Sign Peace Deal

Philippine gov't, rebel sign peace deal

MANILA, Oct. 15, 2012 (Xinhua) --

The Philippine government signed here Monday a landmark peace agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest rebel group, in hope of ending a decades-long insurgency in which 120,000 people have died.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said in his speech that the signing of the Framework Agreement can finally bring genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao.

"Much work remains to be done in order to fully reap the fruits of this Framework Agreement," Aquino said just minutes before the Philippine government and MILF panels signed the Framework Agreement at the presidential palace.

The President said that after the signing ceremony, the panels would work on the annexes to the peace agreement which would " provide us with a solid opportunity to expand the common ground whose principles we have already articulated through the agreement. "

In his speech, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak recognized the challenges facing the peace deal and expressed the readiness of Malaysia, the third-party facilitator of the peace process with the MILF, to be a Philippine "partner in peace" through the provision of training, education, and land development skills to the Bangsamoro people.

He said the Framework Agreement was only the "beginning" as "it does not solve all the problems" but "sets the parameters in which a lasting peace may be found."

Najib said after four decades, peace is finally "within reach" in Mindanao. "Let us grasp with both hands and never let go."

Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Teresita Deles said, "So many challenges await us, but the bridge of trust that spans this room is strong enough to withstand the trials ahead, however difficult they may be. Never again shall we allow that bridge to be undermined, weakened, or destroyed by the forces of greed, avarice and envy."

In his speech, MILF Chairman Murad Al Haj Ebrahim urged the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) "to support the framework agreement and take this historic journey with us to rebuild our Bangsamoro homeland."

Murad said that the Framework Agreement could be considered as a "victory for the Bangsamoro people and the Filipino nation.. earned not by war but by that collective desire tempered by the inner nobility of human nature to restore justice and peace."

Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo said in an interview after the ceremony that investors are expected to show more interest in Mindanao's development following the signing of the peace deal. He said the peace agreement "sends a very positive signal to potential investors."

Responding to questions at a news briefing, MILF Chief Negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said that the most difficult issue encountered during the negotiations for the Framework Agreement was on the police force for the Bangsamoro, and what made them overcome this was their "perseverance" and the "creativity" of the Malaysian facilitator.

At the signing ceremony, the speakers- Aquino, Najib, Murad and Deles- took turns thanking each other and various foreign governments and institutions involved in or had supported the peace process.

Prior to the signing ceremony, Moro leader Murad presented President with a "Gong of Peace" in a courtesy call to Aquino.

"A big smile from President Aquino as Chairman Murad rings the gong of peace ahead of the signing of the agreement" on Bangsamoro, tweeted deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.

Aquino, in turn, gave him a miniature "Bahay Kubo," a kind of traditional Philippine hut.

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