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.


Accept EU deal or face ‘economic disaster’, French minister warns Brexiters

Updated 2 min 35 sec ago
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Accept EU deal or face ‘economic disaster’, French minister warns Brexiters

PARIS: French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said Friday that Brexit advocates must choose between accepting the deal negotiated by London and Brussels for leaving the EU or risk “economic disaster.”
“The choice now faced by British political leaders who have advocated Brexit is to renounce their absurd political promise or face economic disaster, with the British people the main victims,” Le Maire said at a Paris forum on reforming the World Trade Organization.
“What does Brexit demonstrate? It shows that leaving the common European market has an exorbitant economic cost,” he said.
“There are a number of lying and irresponsible politicians in Britain who told the British people that Brexit would turn out to be a golden tomorrow,” he added.
Le Maire’s comments came as British Prime Minister Theresa May battles to salvage her draft Brexit deal and her own political future.
After a tumultuous Thursday in which several ministers resigned and members of her own conservative party plotted to oust her, May said in a radio interview Friday that she believed with “every fiber of my being” in the Brexit course.
Members of parliament on all sides have warned her there is no way the plan can win their approval, but she has dismissed calls to quit, saying: “Am I going to see this through? Yes!”
Critics of the deal say May has conceded too much to Brussels, while EU supporters are calling for a new vote on whether to leave the union.