ZAMBOANGA CITY , Philippines, July 22 (UPI) — Philippine President Roberto Duterte called for an end to violence during a visit to a predominantly Muslim region of the country where the Abu Sayyaf militant group is headquartered.
The newly inaugurated president said “historical wrongs” have been done to Muslims in Mindanao, fueling violence in the southern Philippines.
He pleaded for peace between the government and the Abu Sayyaf terror group headquartered in the area. Abu Sayyaf — which has declared loyalty to the Islamic State — and the secessionist Moro Islamic Militant Front have waged decades-long programs of killings, extortion and drug trafficking in the southern region.
“We have to stop this war. If we cannot stop it, do not hate more,” Duterte said during a stop at a community center in Isabela City, Basilan.
Duterte has called for amendments to the constitution to grant more autonomy from the federal government for regions. On arriving in Zamboanga City Thursday, he conferred with local military and police officials on anti-rebel operations, then met with local leaders, including Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Regional Gov. Mujiv Hataman.
Hataman later said Duterte’s visit improved the morale of local government leaders and security forces dealing with Abu Sayyaf. Operations to expel more than 200 Abu Sayyaf militants from nearby mountains continued as the two leaders spoke. Hataman also said he welcomed the news that a comprehensive peace roadmap between rebels and the government and proposed by government adviser Jesus Dureza received Duterte’s approval.