A new peace treaty will be signed today between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which could signal the end to a conflict that has lasted since 1972. The conflict has killed at least 120,000 people, mostly civilians, and displaced millions as refugees. Muslim rebels have been fighting for independence in the southern island of Mindanao.
Treaty terms include a renunciation of the struggle for independence by the MILF and turning in the weapons of between 10,000 and 15,000 rebel fighters. In return, the government will create the Autonomous Region of Bangsamoro, out of the previous Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The new regional government will have jurisdiction over 75% of tax revenues and limited police and other administrative powers.
Agreements signed in the past have not led to a lasting peace. The MILF is itself a breakaway faction of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a treaty with the Philippine government in 1976 that had been brokered by Muamar Gaddafi. A 'Final Peace Agreement' was signed between the MNLF and the government in Manila in 1996. Negotiations between the MILF and the central government have continued intermittently since then, notwithstanding an attempt by the army to end the conflict decisively by force in the late 1990s.
Other armed groups engaged in fighting the central government are Abu Sayaaf, another Islamist breakaway from the MNLF, Jemaah Islamiyah, who are attempting to establish a pan-Islamic state in South East Asia and the New People's Army, the paramilitary wing of the communist party. Jemaah Islamiyah is notorious for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people. None of these groups were included in this latest peace agreement.
The conflict began in 1972 due to Muslim discontent at the policies of the central government. The Philippines is 80% Roman Catholic, with 5-10% Muslim and the violence has mostly been interreligious.
Abu Sayaaf and Jemaat Islamiyah have links to international terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda. Both are listed as terrorist groups by the U.S. Although no links have ever been proven between MILF and al-Qaeda, MILF has been linked to Jemaat Islamiyah, which is affiliated to al-Qaeda. The southern Philippines have been classified by the U.S. State department as a "terrorist safe haven" since 2006.
Decades of war have ravaged the southern Philippines, but with two Islamist and one communist militia groups still at large, it seems that this treaty will not bring a final resolution to the conflict.