US Hails Peace Deal

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States Monday welcomed a peace deal between Muslim rebels and the Philippine government to end a four-decades-old insurgency, saying it was another step towards ending insurrection.

"We commend the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front leadership for their hard work and unwavering commitment to a better future, as well as Malaysia for its longstanding role as facilitator of the negotiations," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"Today's ceremony marks another step toward ending insurrection and restoring good governance.

"The United States will continue to work with the international community, regional stakeholders and the people of the Philippines to promote transparency, governance, economic growth and development to achieve a better future."

President Benigno S. Aquino III and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim witnessed the signing of the accord, which aims for a final peace pact by 2016, in a ceremony at the presidential palace in Manila.

Under the plan, the 12,000-strong MILF would give up its quest for an independent homeland in the southern region of Mindanao in return for significant power and wealth-sharing in a new autonomous region there.

However the MILF's leadership, the government and independent observers have all warned the path towards peace remains littered with obstacles, and that Monday's signing does not guarantee an end to the conflict.

Muslim rebel groups have been fighting since the 1970s for full independence or autonomy in Mindanao, which they consider to be their ancestral homeland from before Spanish Christian colonization of the country began in the 1500s.

The World Bank and other foreign nations that have been supporting peace and development in Mindanao for many years likewise welcomed Monday's signing of the Framework Agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF.

In a statement, the World Bank--together with other international development partners--gave its assurance that it stands ready to work with both parties and other sectors of Philippine society to intensify "our efforts to improve the lives of many Filipinos, particularly the poor in Mindanao, and help build the momentum for lasting peace and inclusive growth."

Still, the World Bank stressed that "much work remains to be done to turn the Framework Agreement into a final Peace Agreement and, more importantly, to translate it into security and prosperity for the people of Mindanao, particularly the Bangsamoro."

Canada's Ambassador to the Philippines Christopher Thornley also welcomed the signing of the Framework Agreement "and the initiation of a process aimed at lasting peace, governance and prosperity in Mindanao."

"The diligent efforts of all sides, particularly the Government of the Philippines, bring the dawning of a new era of opportunities for the people of Mindanao, the people of the Philippines, and partners in the surrounding region," said Ambassador Thornley in a statement.

"Canada extends its best wishes to the members of the Transition Commission as they begin their work in developing the legal framework for the establishment of the Bangsamoro, and the full implementation of the agreement."

Also, the British government has extended its congratulations to the Philippines on the historic signing of the Framework Agreement with the MILF.

In a statement, British Embassy in Manila Chargé D 'Affaires Trevor Lewis, who attended the ceremony, said the signing "marks the beginning of a new era for Mindanao and the Philippines as a whole."

"The messages of support for the agreement over the last week and the diverse mix of representatives at the signing in Malacañang underline the widespread commitment to a more peaceful and prosperous future," Lewis said. "The road to full implementation will not be without difficulty. But the strong levels of support the Agreement has attracted will help the process get off to the best possible start." (With a report from Roy Mabasa)