Give Muslims self-rule or ‘count body bags’: Philippines’ Aquino

Updated 27 March 2015
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Give Muslims self-rule or ‘count body bags’: Philippines’ Aquino

MANILA: Philippine President Benigno Aquino has called on lawmakers to pass a bill endorsing a pact aimed at ending a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion, warning them they would otherwise start counting “body bags.”
Aquino had wanted the bill, which would give autonomy to the majority Catholic nation’s Muslim minority in the south, passed this month.
But Congress suspended debates on the proposed law in the face of public outrage over the killings of 44 police commandoes by guerrillas in a botched anti-terror raid in January.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace deal a year ago Friday, had said its members fired in self-defense at the commandoes, who passed through a rebel camp while going after militants.
“This is the crossroads we face: we take pains to forge peace today, or we count body bags tomorrow,” Aquino said in a nationwide television address.
“Perhaps it is easy for you to push for all-out war,” he said, hitting out at critics who have condemned the peace deal with the MILF.
“But if the conflict grows, the number of Filipinos shooting at other Filipinos will grow, and it would not be out of the question that a friend or loved one be one of the people who will end up inside a body bag.”
The rebellion for a separate state or self-rule has claimed nearly 120,000 lives and cost billions of dollars in economic losses, according to government estimates.
Under a peace deal signed with the MILF, the 10,000-member group pledged to disarm while the Philippine government vowed to pass an autonomy law in Muslim areas of the south.
“The Bangsamoro basic law is one of the most important proposed bills of our administration. It answers the two most pressing problems of our countrymen: poverty and violence,” Aquino said.
He warned it would be difficult to restart peace talks if the current process failed and the MILF leadership lost its influence among its members to more radical elements.
Aquino is required by the constitution to stand down in mid-2016 after serving a single six-year term.
The January police raid sought to capture or kill two men on the US government’s list of “most wanted terrorists” who were living among Muslim rebels in southern Philippine farming communities.
One of the men, Malaysian national Zulkifli bin Hir who had a $5-million bounty on his head, was reported killed.
But the other, Filipino Abdul Basit Usman, escaped as rebels surrounded and killed the police commandoes.


Funeral held for Norwegian student slain in Morocco

Updated 21 January 2019
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Funeral held for Norwegian student slain in Morocco

  • Moroccan ambassador Lamia Radi joined the mourners for 28-year-old Maren Ueland
  • Moroccan authorities have said that Ueland was killed together with 24-year-old Louisa Vesterager Jespersen of Denmark in a terrorist act

OSLO: The Moroccan ambassador attended the funeral Monday of the Norwegian woman hiker murdered last December in Morocco along with her Danish friend, reading messages of sympathy from her country’s citizens.
Ambassador Lamia Radi joined the mourners for 28-year-old Maren Ueland, including Norway’s health minister and several dozen students from the University of Southeastern Norway, where the two women studied.
The church service took place in the southeast town of Time.
During the service, Radi denounced the “barbary” and “ignominy” of the killings, and read aloud messages from Moroccan people expressing their sadness.
“Morocco wanted to be present today to express first its solidarity, to share the sorrow of the family,” she told Norway’s TV2 ahead of the ceremony.
“At the same time, (we want) to make it very clear that we strongly condemn the horrible murders of those innocent girls,” she said.
Moroccan authorities have said that Ueland was killed together with 24-year-old Louisa Vesterager Jespersen of Denmark in a “terrorist act.”
They were attacked as they camped overnight Dec 16-17 at an isolated hiking spot in the High Atlas mountains. Their bodies were found the following day, beheaded.
Moroccan authorities have arrested a total of 22 people in connection with the murders.
They include four main suspects and a Spanish-Swiss man who had links to some of the suspects and who subscribed to “extremist ideology,” Moroccan officials say.
The main suspects belonged to a cell inspired by Daesh group ideology, but none of the four had contact with Daesh members in Syria or Iraq, Morocco’s counter-terror chief Abdelhak Khiam told AFP.
Jespersen’s funeral was held on January 12 in Denmark.