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High hopes for Philippines peace deal with Muslim rebels

Both the government and Muslim leaders trumpeted the deal, but doubts remain over whether powerful Muslim clan leaders will be willing to lay down their arms as promised.

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“It’s going to be tough,” says Laisa Alamia, regional chairwoman of the government’s Commission on Human Rights. “We have a government problem, a corruption problem,” she says. “There’s still a lot of work for all the stakeholders to do.”

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Powerful clan leaders

The most intractable obstacle to lasting peace is that feuding factions are sure to want to find ways to guarantee their authority. Powerful clan leaders have long defied central government rule while reaching accommodations with Muslim groupings and enriching themselves and their extended families at the expense of citizens who rank among the nation’s poorest.

Among the most powerful are the family and followers of Andal Ampatuan, a former provincial governor on trial in Manila along with two of his sons and a number of others for the massacre of 58 people, including 32 journalists, nearly three years ago. The attack targeted supporters of a gubernatorial candidate who was running against Mr. Ampatuan.

Another recalcitrant Muslim leader, Nur Misuari, is running for governor of Sulu, an island chain off the southwestern tip of Mindanao.

Mr. Misuari was once the leader of a rival Muslim grouping, the Moro National Liberation Front, many of whose members were drawn to the government side after years of revolt. He himself was rewarded with an appointment as governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), encompassing five strife-torn provinces, before he was implicated in a bloody uprising and fled to Malaysia. After returning eventually to the Philippines, he was jailed for nearly a year before going free on bail.

Yet another grouping, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, has been killing, robbing, and kidnapping since breaking off from the MILF. And the most hard-line terrorists, the Abu Sayyaf, remain a threat with several hundred fighters in the Sulu archipelago and deep in Mindanao jungles.

Bangsamoro would replace and enlarge on the ARMM, which Aquino called “a failed experiment” since its founding more than two decades ago.

“The ARMM became a monster in itself,” says Wilnor Papa, campaign coordinator for Amnesty International here. “The new Bangsamoro will be taking lessons from where it failed.”

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