P-Noy to visit MILF stronghold on Monday
Rosalinda L. Orosa (The Philippine Star) - February 8, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino will make a historic visit on Monday to the stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in an effort to push forward the peace talks, his office said yesterday.

Aquino’s trip to the outskirts of the 12,000-member MILF’s main base in Maguindanao will be the first peace mission there by a president since the insurgency began in the 1970s.

Aquino and MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim will meet as they witness the launch of a social welfare project for mainly Muslim residents of communities where the rebels exert an influence, Aquino’s spokesman Ricky Carandang told AFP.

“It’s not a formal meeting, but their presence will underscore the commitment and optimism that both sides have that a final resolution to the peace process will be achieved,” he said.

“The launch of the social programs will show concrete benefits of peace,” he added.

At the launch, health insurance cards will be distributed to residents, emergency jobs offered to adults, and scholarships given to their children, Aquino’s office said.

The MILF has been fighting since the 1970s for independence in Mindanao. An estimated 150,000 people have died in the conflict.

The MILF signed a “framework agreement” with the Aquino administration last October, committing both sides to form a new autonomous entity on Mindanao by 2016, when Aquino ends his six-year term.

The MILF vowed to give up its quest for an independent homeland in exchange for significant power and wealth-sharing in a new autonomous region.

Negotiators from both sides have been meeting in neighboring Malaysia to thresh out what they described as contentious items in the plan.

Cabinet secretary Jose Almendras said Monday’s event would be held at an MILF-run school that residents say is about half a kilometer from the main gate of the rebels’ headquarters, Camp Darapanan.

“It’s very close to the MILF camp,” Almendras said.

MILF spokesman Mike Pasigan welcomed the imminent launch of the social welfare project.

“The program will further strengthen the collaboration between the government and the MILF as we build on the gains of the peace process,” he said in a statement.

The military yesterday gave assurance that Aquino would be safe when he visits the MILF stronghold. “We guarantee the safety of the President… We have enough troops dedicated for (that),” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said in an interview.

Members of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division would provide security to the President and his party.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, 6th ID spokesman, said they are coordinating with the Presidential Security Group and the regional police to thresh out the security preparations.

The MILF is optimistic that no untoward incidents would happen during Aquino’s visit. 

“The government will handle the security. We will play a part in the security but only minor. The government will play the major part,” said Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chairman of the MILF. 

Aquino’s visit, he said, will be a “boost to the peace talks between us and the government.” –Alexis Romero, Edith Regalado

ALEXIS ROMERO AQUINO ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES ARNULFO BURGOS JR. CAMP DARAPANAN DICKSON HERMOSO EDITH REGALADO GHADZALI JAAFAR INFANTRY DIVISION MILF
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