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Philippine rebels on cusp of Muslim autonomy dream

Bangsamoro region to vote in a referendum granting greater powers to local leaders

People in Bangsamoro will vote on whether to approve a new region with greater autonomy on Jan. 21 and Feb. 6. (Photo by Jun Endo)

DARAPANAN, Philippines -- Forty-nine years ago, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim quit college and joined a rebellion intent on establishing an Islamic government in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic nation. Now, aged 69, he is just a referendum away from realizing his dream.

"We've been in the organization for more than 40 years. We've been leading the revolutionary organization, but never have we been in formal governance," Murad told the Nikkei Asian Review at his rebel group's largest camp.

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