MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A tentative roadmap to peace in the southern Philippines announced this week is the first major step in the latest attempt to end a long and bloody insurgency waged by minority Muslims in the predominantly Christian nation. It carries the risk of failure that has been the fate of similar peace agreements, but strong domestic and international backing could boost its chances of success. Here's a look at the background and the future of the deal:
SEEDS OF THE FIGHTING:
Muslims in Mindanao first took up arms decades ago to defend what they see as their traditional homeland under threat by Christians. Tens of thousands have died in ethnic clashes and massacres that sowed bad blood for generations.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S., Australia and other governments have looked at the southern third of the Philippines — Mindanao Island and neighboring provinces — as a second Afghanistan, a place where militants from Indonesia, Malaysia and Southeast Asia fled in order to escape crackdowns at home. They sought refuge with Muslim rebels and set up training grounds in their strongholds.
For the rest of the Philippines, Mindanao conjures a place where warlords rule, ransom kidnappings are common and terrorists bomb churches and ambush travelers.
RECOVERING FROM A FAILED DEAL:
A deal granting autonomy to five Muslim provinces was signed in 1996 and implemented on paper years later, but it changed little in the poverty- and violence-stricken region. Elections were rigged, corruption rife, and political bosses with private armies ruled the day. Disgruntled guerrillas carried on with bombings and attacks under the banner of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
A fresh autonomy proposal from then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo flopped in 2008. It was criticized for promising too much too soon and without public scrutiny.
When President Benigno Aquino III was elected in 2010, he agreed to meet with the Moro rebel chief, Al Haj Murad — something Arroyo did not do. The men met at the Tokyo airport, concluded that they could work together and set in motion a series of meetings in neighboring Malaysia, which has been facilitating the talks since 1997.
The talks this time involved the so-called International Contact Group of representatives from the U.S., Europe and Muslim nations who acted as witnesses, observers and advisers. Negotiations under Aquino were initially kept under wraps but now are open to public input.