After more than 40 years of fighting, the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels have signed a preliminary peace agreement to end a conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people.
The rebels claim they face discrimination in the southern Philippines, and have demanded autonomy for Muslims in the Mindanao island region.
Benigno Aquino, president of the Philippines, has said the deal “paves the way for a final enduring peace in Mindanao”. The agreement includes an expanded system of Islamic law for Muslims, while granting more autonomy to local authorities in Muslim areas.
The rebel army is estimated at 10,000 strong. Thousands of local people on Mindanao island have been caught up in the decades of violence and many have been displaced. Most civilians are hoping the preliminary deal will bring normalcy to their often difficult lives.
“We just want to be left alone, to live in peace. We have nothing to do with that fighting,” said villager Mary Jane Dakan, who has seen many of her loved ones killed.
Aquino said the peace deal will reintegrate former fighters back into society. “Hands that once held rifles will be put to use tilling land, selling produce, manning workstations and opening doors of opportunity for other citizens,” Aquino said recently.