March 26, 2019
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Vice-chair of MILF, largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines, dies

Manila, Mar 13 (efe-epa).- Ghazali Jaafar, Vice Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines, died early Wednesday at the age of 75, the government run Philippine News Agency reports.

Jaafar chaired the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, a new autonomous Muslim region formed just two weeks ago as a result of a peace agreement the government signed with the MILF in 2014 to settle five decades of separatist conflict in the southern Philippines.

"Our brother Ghazali Jaafar passed away around 1 am this morning at a hospital in Davao City", confirmed in a message to local media the leader of the MILF, Murad Ebrahim, who presides over the interim government of Bangsamoro until elections are held in the region in 2022.

Ebrahim stressed that Jaafar was "one of the biggest pillars" for the Moro independence movement, taking its name from the Muslim Moro people of Mindanao, and that his death means "a big loss" for the new Bangsamoro region on the island of Mindanao.

Besides heading the Transition Commission, Jaafar was to preside over Bangsamoro's autonomous parliament upon its formation.

Prof. Raby Angkal, the family spokesperson, said that Jaafar's body will be transferred on Wednesday from the Davao hospital where he died to Sultan Kudarat, the municipality where the MILF camps are located and where the three-day funeral will be held according to Muslim tradition.

Jaafar's last public appearance was on Feb. 22, when MILF ex-rebels were sworn in as members of the Bangsamoro interim government in a ceremony at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila before President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Bangsamoro is the peace solution agreed in 2014 by the former government of Benigno Aquino III and the MILF, which renounced its independence claims and armed fight in exchange for governing that new autonomous region.

The peace agreement was ratified by the majority Muslim community in the southern Philippines in a plebiscite on Jan. 21, in which the Yes won with a comfortable margin of 87 percent.

With the establishment of Bangsamoro, the MILF must demobilize one-third of its 40,000 combatants and surrender one-third of the 7,000 weapons it claims to possess, a disarmament process that must be completed by 2022.

It is not the first time that an autonomous government has been established in the area, where the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created in 1996 as a result of an armistice with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), from which the MILF split in 1984.

This initiative, which was not supported by the MILF, hasn't contributed to the development of the region, which suffers from a lack of funds from the central government, corruption, and nepotism.

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