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The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was the most successful of the Muslim secessionist movements that emerged during the 1970's in the southern regions of the Philippines. Led by Nur Misuari, the MNLF has fought the Philippine government for over twenty years, before finally allowing themselves to be integrated into the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and thus into mainstream Philippine politics.

It was founded in 1972 after the declaration of martial law by the Marcos government, which included orders for all civilians to surrender their weapons. Fearful of yet more oppression from the government, several armed rebel groups sprung up all over Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago.

Misuari managed to bring most of these small groups into the loose MNLF framework, to fight for an independent Moro homeland. He also succeeded in receiving aid from backers in Libya and Malaysia, who were also interested in furthering the Islamic cause in the Philippines.

At the peak of hostilities, in 1975, the Bangsa Moro Army, the military arm of the MNLF, was able to field over 30,000 armed warriors. However, the Armed Forces of the Philippines had shifted almost 80% of its combat forces to Mindanao. From 1972 to 1976, an estimated 50,000 casualties, both civilian and military, had been incurred.

The Marcos administration tried to broker a ceasefire, and succeeded in getting the MNLF to sign the Tripoli Agreement with the help of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1976. However, the talks broke down a year later after the MNLF accused the government of not keeping its end of the bargain.

A shift in tactics on the part of the government, however, had weakened the MNLF at this point. The government had begun to encourage factionalism between the Moro tribes, as well as providing economic assistance and offers of amnesty and land titles to any defectors who would give up their arms.

In 1977, Hashim Salamat broke away from the MNLF and formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), considered a more moderate organization than its parent. Several rival leaders also formed the Bangsa Moro Liberation Organization (eventually the MNLF-Reformist Movement), drawing most Maranaws away from Misuari's Tausug-dominated leadership. By 1983, the MNLF was down to about 15,000 men.

After the Marcos ouster, government talks in 1986 with all three organizations produced the ARMM in 1989, without the membership of the MNLF, which formally resumed hostilities in 1988. Fidel Ramos, Corazon Aquino's successor, managed to get the MNLF to join the ARMM, by offering Nur Misuari a governorship for life.

Unfortunately, this spawned numerous "lost commands" as low-level MNLF officers refused to acknowledge Misuari's agreement with the government. While most of these have degenerated into minor bands of roving bandits, some, like the Abu Sayyaf, have turned into real threats to the region's peace and order.

Facts checked at www.fas.org, post-1990 facts from the Philippine Daily Inquirer and various local newscasts.

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