Thousands of infants in inaccessible southern Philippine areas will receive immunization shots under a landmark deal between the U.N.'s children fund and Muslim rebels.
The "Days of Peace" campaign that starts Monday in the Mindanao region, where Muslim rebels have been fighting for self-rule, will aim to vaccinate about 30,000 children against preventable diseases, UNICEF said in a statement.
Al Haj Murad, chairman of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a 2003 cease-fire with the government to pave the way for Malaysian-brokered peace talks, said the health campaign should be seen "as a component (of) and tied up to the ongoing peace process."
"We would like our people to accept the program as among the fruits of the ongoing peace process," Murad said in a statement issued by the rebels.
UNICEF representative Nicholas Alipui said apart from immunizations, the program will provide nutrient supplements, counseling and other medicine to families. About 16,500 pregnant mothers also will receive a vaccination against tetanus, he said.
Additional campaigns in June and July, will see health workers register births and educate people about malaria control, UNICEF said.
Mindanao, the country's second-largest island, is among the poorest regions of the Philippines. Apart from Muslim separatists, al-Qaida-linked militants and communist rebels also operate there.