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Aquino Urges Congress to Push Ahead with Muslim Autonomous Region

FILE - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, left, walks with New Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) head, Chief Supt. Moro Virgilio Lazo, after the Assumption of Command Ceremony at Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig, south of Manila.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Friday urged lawmakers to resume debating a proposed law on an autonomous territory in the Muslim south, in a bid to end a 45-year conflict that has killed 120,000 people.

The two-chamber Congress suspended deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would grant self-rule to the Moro minority, after 44 police commandos died in a clash with Muslim rebels on Jan. 25.

“If the proposed bill is lacking, it can be addressed by pushing through with the debates on it,” Aquino told a national television address. “I do not pursue peace just to add to my legacy. What we are pursuing is a genuine peace that truly addresses the roots of the problems that led to violence.”

Aquino has called for a national peace summit comprising community leaders including Manila's Roman Catholic archbishop, a retired judge, and a wealthy businessman to “dissect the proposed law in a calm and reasonable manner.”

Last year, Manila promised to allow the country's largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a one-year transition period to rule a Bangsamoro area before elections in May 2016. That is no longer feasible as the law creating the autonomous area has so far failed to get approval.

MILF leader al haj Ebrahim Murad told Reuters in an interview this month the rebel group would not accept a new autonomous law short of what the two sides had already agreed and signed. Malaysia brokered the deal.

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