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Philippines holds referendum for Muslim-majority Mindanao

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The vote could end decades of violence

Nearly three million people in the volatile Muslim-majority region of Mindanao in the Philippines are voting in a referendum which could see the region given greater autonomy.

They have been asked whether they back a plan by separatists to create a self-administered area known as Bangsamoro.

The vote is a political solution to decades of fighting between Islamist separatists and the Philippine army

More than 120,000 people have died in the years of violence.

Final results are expected by Friday, and a “yes” vote is widely expected.

Why is this significant?

The vote is the result of a peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – which has for decades been fighting for independence.

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Mindanao has been wrecked by violence over the years

The Philippines government has so far failed to bring about peace in the region.

But the MILF rebels have said they will give up their push for an independent region in return for greater rule over the new region.

They say this is the best way to help them rein in the smaller, more radical groups – some with links to the so-called Islamic State – which have emerged in recent years.

What exactly are people voting for?

They are being asked whether a region called the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region should be created, transferring some powers from the central government to regional authorities.

The move would bring in more funding and greater control of the region’s resources would be given.

The new region would have its own elections in 2022, and constituents would be able to vote for its own parliament and a chief ministry.

The government in Manila would still oversee policing and security.

The MILF would be expected to become a significant political force in the new region.

If it proves successful, it could lead to the establishment of a federal political system across the Philippines.

Why is Mindanao so volatile?

Mindanao is a Muslim-majority region in a predominantly Catholic country.

Many rebels regard the region as their ancestral homeland dating back to the 13th century when Arab traders first arrived.

As a result, Mindanao has seen a huge amount of violence in recent years – mainly between the army, Muslim separatists and other rebels.

The violence has left Mindanao one of the poorest regions in the Philippines.

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