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.


South Africa’s leader cuts short UK visit after protests

Updated 1 min 6 sec ago
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South Africa’s leader cuts short UK visit after protests

  • South Africa’s foreign minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, confirmed that Botswana had closed its border with the province because of the chaos.
  • The ANC and its leadership also face internal divisions after the tumultuous resignation of former President Jacob Zuma in February.

MAHIKENG, South Africa: South Africa’s president has cut short a visit to Britain to return home and deal with violent protests in a provincial capital.
President Cyril Ramaphosa left the Commonwealth summit in London to respond to the turmoil in the North West capital of Mahikeng, where residents brought life to a standstill with protests over alleged corruption and calls for the premier to resign.
Ramaphosa was visiting the city on Friday in the most significant test of his public peacemaking skills since he took office in February.
A statement from the president’s office noted clashes with police and called for calm and engagement “rather than violence and anarchy.” It also urged police to show restraint in the city of about 300,000.
The unrest continued Friday, with state broadcaster SABC showing police firing rubber bullets to disperse looters in the streets. It reported that 23 people had been arrested, citing local police.
South Africa’s foreign minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, confirmed that Botswana had closed its border with the province because of the chaos, SABC reported.
South Africa’s next election is in 2019 and the ruling African National Congress party under Ramaphosa is eager to recover from its worst-ever election showing in 2016, in which the ANC lost control of major municipalities including commercial hub Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria.
The party and its leadership also face internal divisions after the tumultuous resignation of former President Jacob Zuma in February after multiple scandals and allegations of graft. Ramaphosa, Zuma’s former deputy, has repeatedly pledged to tackle the widespread corruption that had weakened investor confidence in one of Africa’s largest economies.
The North West premier, Supra Mahumapelo, is an ANC politician and has faced accusations of corruption from residents who say mismanagement has led to a decline in government services.
Similar protests have been common across South Africa, which the World Bank this year called, by any measure, “one of the most unequal countries in the world.”