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June 23, 2017

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Philippines' leader visits rebel stronghold

SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines--Philippine President Benigno Aquino paid a historic visit Monday to Muslim rebel territory in a bid to speed up efforts to end one of Asia's longest and deadliest insurgencies. It was the first peace mission by a president to MILF's powerbase.

Four months after his government agreed on a roadmap with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for a final peace deal by 2016, Aquino traveled to the insurgents' stronghold in the far south as a confidence-building measure.

"We have just three years and four months left. We have to speed up everything we are doing now to make this (peace) permanent," Aquino said on a stage alongside MILF chief Murad Ebrahim just outside the rebels' main base.

The deadline for peace coincides with the end of Aquino's six-year term as president. The constitution limits him to one term and there are concerns that the next president may not be able, or may not want, to pursue the peace agenda.

Aquino expressed confidence that the negotiations would yield significant results within weeks, and that a final peace pact could be achieved by 2016.

The key event on Monday, held just outside MILF's heavily fortified Camp Darapanan, was the launch of joint development projects.

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