SULTAN KUDARAT - The Philippines' top rebel leader warned Saturday a peace deal signed by his group could only end the armed conflict if the wider Filipino Muslim community supported it.
Under the pact the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would give up its quest for an independent homeland in the south in return for significant power and wealth-sharing in a new autonomous region there to be known as Bangsamoro.
Authorities and MILF leaders must work to convince the large Muslim minority that the October 15 accord was a step forward for them, the front's chairman Murad Ebrahim said Saturday.
"Please be reminded that the task ahead is bigger and more complex and complicated: translating this agreement into reality on the ground," he said in a statement read at a news conference on Mindanao island, home of the rebellion.
The decades-old conflict has claimed 150,000 lives and impoverished Mindanao, a resources-rich region where most of the mainly Catholic nation's Muslim minority lives.
The accord has been criticised by some factions within the rival Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government in 1996.
MNLF founder Nur Misuari alleges a proposed autonomous government spelt out in the MILF agreement would violate the terms of the MNLF peace deal that created an existing self-rule area in the south.
Ebrahim said Saturday the group must "make our people feel that the Bangsamoro government envisioned in the framework agreement is their government and no longer the... government of the aliens".
He urged the MNLF and other Muslim groups to support the peace deal.
"Our main task this time is... to make them feel and realise that the framework agreement is not only an agreement between the MILF and the (government) but an all-inclusive agreement between the Bangsamoro people and the Philippine state."
Ebrahim stressed that negotiations on implementing the peace deal have yet to be completed, with "issues in power-sharing, wealth-sharing, inter-governmental relations and normalisation" still to be settled.
Representatives of both sides are set to head back for talks held in neighbouring Malaysia in mid-November to thrash out the unresolved issues, he added.
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