Aquino wants Mindanao peace talks speeded up
Philippine President Benigno Aquino paid a historic visit on Sunday to a Muslim rebel stronghold and said peace talks with them must be speeded up.
Aquino handed out educational, health and livelihood benefits to the families of rebels, to show his government's intention to improve the lives of the Muslim minority in the largely Christian nation.
In the first presidential visit to the outskirts of the main camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao island, Aquino said peace talks should be completed before his term ends in 2016.
"We have just three years and four months left. We have to speed up everything we are doing now to make this [peace] permanent," he said. Aquino said this would ensure that future peaceful relations would not be dependent on who is in office.
"We are near the fruits of our labour. This is not the time for our hearts to grow faint," he told MILF leaders, Muslim residents and foreign diplomats.
The rebels last October signed a "framework agreement" with Aquino's government committing both sides to form a new autonomous entity on Mindanao by 2016 to end a decades-long guerilla war for a separate state.
But full details of the agreement are still being thrashed out even as Aquino warned that unnamed figures were putting up "obstacles".
He said friends had warned him not to enter MILF territory but he replied: "If I can be a bridge, then the sacrifice of one Noynoy [his nickname] is worth it to help so many countrymen."