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Philippine Muslim rebels plan to form political party

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Philippine's Muslim rebel group, plan to form political party to run an autonomous region to be created in 2016 under current administration

AFP , Monday 27 May 2013
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The Philippines' main Muslim rebel group plans to set up a political party in preparation for the 2016 elections, the chief rebel peace negotiator said Monday.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a ceasefire in 2003, giving up its quest for an independent homeland in return for significant power in a proposed autonomous region in the nation's south.

"We have not yet officially formed a political party but we are conducting wide consultations among our members," MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told AFP.

The proposed party would only seek office after the creation of a Muslim autonomous region, he stressed.

Chief government peace negotiator Teresita Deles praised the MILF's moves, saying it was "consistent" with the peace process and showed the group's commitment to democracy.

President Benigno Aquino's spokeswoman Abigail Valte said the government also welcomed the MILF's political plans for 2016.

This is part of the peace process aimed at creating an autonomous region for the Muslim minority in the southern third of the mainly Catholic nation of 100 million before Aquino's term ends in 2016, she said.

However both Valte and Iqbal said that they did not know when peace talks would resume, even as the government's deadline for creating the autonomous region draws closer.

Valte said that "both parties are determined to complete the implementation of the (agreement) within the term of the president so as not to leave any unfinished business for the next administration".

The MILF, which has about 12,000 armed followers, and the government were supposed to settle all outstanding issues and forge a peace accord before mid-term elections on May 13 but they failed to hit this target.

Even after a final peace deal is signed, congress must still pass a law and approve it before the end of 2014. After that, areas included in the planned autonomous region would need to be endorsed by a plebiscite.

The conflict, which has raged since the early-1970s, has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives, although most of the deaths occurred during that decade with the ceasefire largely holding.

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