Leader of Philippines separatist group casts vote in historic referendum

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Voters were watched over by a contingent of 20,000 police and soldiers. (AN photo)
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Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al-Haj Ebrahim Murad casts his vote for the first time as he participated in the historic plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law. (AN photo)
Updated 21 January 2019
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Leader of Philippines separatist group casts vote in historic referendum

  • Law seen as solution to decades of separatist conflict in Mindanao
  • Some 2.8 million voters have registered for the referendum

SULTAN KUDARAT, MAGUINDANAO: Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim on Monday cast his vote for the first time in a historic referendum seeking to ratify a law that will give more autonomy to the Philippines’ Muslim minority.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) is seen as the solution to the decades of separatist conflict in Mindanao, a region plagued by poverty and violent extremism.

Some 2.8 million voters have registered for the referendum.

“This is my first time to vote,” said Murad. “During the height of the war, we never thought that this would happen. But after the progress of the peace process, we see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.” 

It took the leader of the MILF, formerly the biggest Muslim group in the country, only a few minutes to case his “yes” vote. 

“I am happy that at least for the first time, I have exercised my right of suffrage,” he later said, adding that his participation in the voting signals the commencement of their transition from a revolutionary into the democratic process.

Like Murad, thousands of MILF fighters, along with their families, also trooped to polling centers yesterday to take part in the voting process, many of them for the first time.

“We are hoping that with this development, we can finally achieve the aspiration of our people for peace, progress and a good life in this part of the country and in the entire country,” Murad said.

Murad said that after the plebiscite, “hopefully the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the transitional government, will be immediately established and we will start to organize our government structure and after the BTA, a regular government in 2022.”

Murad said that once the BOL is implemented, their priorities would be education, medical services, social services,and infrastructure, adding that education was their top priority. 

“For more than 50 years of war, many of our people have not obtained education. We cannot really progress if our people are not educated,” he said.

Murad said that as long as the vote is conducted in a fair manner with no manipulation, intimidation or cheating, they are “determined to accept whatever is the result.”

If the BOL is not ratified, Murad said they would press the government to come to an agreement with the MILF. 

“One lesson we have learned in our struggle of more than 50 years is that although we resort to armed struggle as an option, we always see that the solution to the problem is peace,” he said. 

“The important thing is we will not close our door for peace because war is not a solution. The solution is still peace. So that is why for us, just to defend ourselves, we resort to armed struggle. But we never hesitate to go back to negotiation. And that, I think, contributed to our success in this peace process.”

Meanwhile, tension gripped one of the biggest polling centers in Cotabato City, in which a huge number of men reportedly arrived at the scene.

The military deployed troops and vehicles at the Cotabato City Central Pilot School as heavily armed policemen stood guard outside the school.


Kim Jong Un visits war memorial following summit with Putin

Updated 10 min 1 sec ago
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Kim Jong Un visits war memorial following summit with Putin

  • Kim criticized Washington for taking a “unilateral attitude in bad faith” at his February meeting with President Donald Trump
  • Putin indicated that he might be willing to play a bigger role in breaking the stalemate over Washington’s push for denuclearization and Kim’s demands for sanctions relief

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un paid his respects at a ceremony honoring the war dead Friday to wrap up a brief and generally successful visit to the Russian Far East for his first summit with President Vladimir Putin.
Kim arrived about two hours later than expected at a park near the headquarters of the Russian navy’s Pacific Fleet for the wreath-laying ceremony.
Wearing a black suit and a fedora, he followed two goose-stepping Russian soldiers carrying a plate of red flowers with his name spelled out in Korean in gold colors on a red ribbon. Kim then laid flowers, took off his hat and bowed as a Russian military band played music, including North Korea’s national anthem.
Kim was expected to return to Pyongyang later Friday by private train.
Following their talks on Thursday, Putin indicated that he might be willing to play a bigger role in breaking the stalemate over Washington’s push for denuclearization and Kim’s demands for sanctions relief.
He said he would be willing to share details with the United States about his summit with Kim and suggested that Kim is willing to give up nuclear weapons, but only if he gets ironclad security guarantees supported by a multinational agreement.
Kim criticized Washington for taking a “unilateral attitude in bad faith” at his February meeting with President Donald Trump in Hanoi said that has caused the diplomatic standstill, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said Friday. He also told Putin the situation on the Korean Peninsula has reached a “critical point” and whether it returns to tensions will “entirely depend on the US future attitude.”
The agency said Putin credited Kim’s diplomatic initiatives for stabilizing the situation surrounding the peninsula and accepted Kim’s invitation to visit North Korea at a “convenient time.”
No specific measures coming out of the summit have been reported by either side. After meeting Kim, Putin later headed for a two-day trip to Beijing, where he said he will inform the Chinese leadership about the summit.
The leaders’ comments suggest there has been no significant shift in Kim’s position.
North Korea has all along contended that it needs its nuclear arsenal to defend itself against what it sees as US hostility and wants concrete reassurances of its safety — including the removal of the American nuclear threat as an integral part of the denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula.
Along with a statement of political support, Kim was also looking for some kind of economic support and possibly even a workaround to sanctions that will force more than 10,000 North Korean laborers in Russia to leave by the end of the year. The laborers are a major source of income for Pyongyang.
Putin said they discussed the issue and would find a solution taking into account “humanitarian” factors, though he didn’t say what that would be.