Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte signed legislation to create a Muslim autonomous region in the south to quell violence from Islamic State rebel groups.
Philippines presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Thursday evening that Duterte signed the bill, called the Bangsamoro organic law, bringing fruition to an autonomy deal that four successive presidents have negotiated for over 20 years.
Islamic rebel groups that have been fighting for control over the region for decades agreed to disarm as part of the deal to create the autonomous region, which will be called Bangsamoro.
The new autonomous region will replace the current five-province Muslim autonomous region, created after the 1996 peace deal between the government and the Islamic rebel group called the Moro National Liberation Front.
That autonomous region has largely been labeled a failure, as it wracked with poverty and ongoing violence between government forces and various rebel groups, some of whom are linked to ISIS.
Muslim fighting in the region has killed more than 120,000 people over the years.
Government troops supported by U.S. and Australian surveillance aircraft squared off with ISIS-linked rebels in 2017 and ultimately defeated their attempt to create a stronghold in the region in the city of Marawi, in which they took at least 40 hostages including a Catholic priest.
That conflict alone accounted for over 1,200 deaths, most of whom were Islamic militants.
Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front, said Tuesday at a press conference that 30,000 to 40,000 militants would disarm in response to the signing of the bill and that the remainder of the guerrilla soldiers would disarm once the new law is fulfilled.
Murad also claimed his rebel group was converting six of its largest camps into “productive civilian communities,” and urged the international community to contribute to a fund to aid the guerrilla soldiers in the region to transition to normal civilian life.
“We will decommission our forces, the entire forces,” Murad said, according to the Associated Press.
The Philippine government will set aside an annual grant amounting to $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion for development in the new autonomous region to avoid the failures of the previous region caused in part by abject poverty.
Murad also stressed the importance of fully enforcing the peace agreement, saying that difficulties in enforcing past peace agreements fostered frustrations that led to splinter groups and a surge in support for ISIS-linked groups.
“We can roughly conclude that all these splinter groups are a result of the frustration with the peace process,” Murad said, according to the AP.
Governments of Western nations applauded the peace agreements as a way to help prevent those splinter groups from forging alliances with Islamic militants in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
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