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Aquino Agrees to Negotiate End of Revolt

Associated Press

President Corazon Aquino and a Muslim rebel leader today agreed to negotiate an end to a 14-year-old separatist revolt that has killed at least 50,000 people in the southern Philippines.

Aquino and Nur Misuari, chairman of the separatist Moro National Liberation Front, met for two hours at a Roman Catholic convent.

In a joint statement issued after the meeting, they said they agreed “to support the continued cessation of hostilities” while holding more talks.

The Moro front has spearheaded the Muslim insurgency in about a dozen provinces on Mindanao, the Philippines’ second largest island, and in the Sulu chain of islands farther south. Fighting has been reduced to isolated skirmishes in recent years.

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Misuari returned a few days ago from a 10-year exile in Libya and Saudi Arabia. On Thursday, at a guerrilla congress on a rebel-held coconut plantation, he declared himself head of a separate nation in the south.

‘Not Your Enemy’

“I am not your enemy,” Aquino was heard telling Misuari as they sat face-to-face in a small room. Misuari, wearing fatigues and a green beret, called her “Your Excellency,” and she called him “Nur.”

Aquino discarded protocol by meeting Misuari in Jolo, a rebel stronghold. She flew aboard an air force plane to Jolo island, part of the Sulu chain 600 miles south of Manila.

The joint statement said the two leaders agreed to form panels for talks expected to focus on autonomy for Filipino Muslims, who number about 5 million in a predominantly Christian nation of more than 50 million.

Aides to Misuari said before the congress that although he favors establishing an independent Islamic state, he would settle for autonomy if that is what Filipino Muslims want.

Aquino has ruled out secession but is willing to grant Muslims autonomy. A commission drafting a new constitution in Manila has approved a provision on Muslim autonomy in the draft charter.


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