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Philippine government and Muslim rebels complete peace deal talks

The Philippine government and the country's largest Muslim rebel group say they have clinched a peace deal to end four decades of fighting. But implementation could still pose a problem.

The accord on normalization between Filipino negotiators and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) calls for Muslim self-rule in parts of the southern Philippines. In exchange, MILF has agreed to decommission its forces.

The deal reached on Saturday in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, is the last of four power-sharing accords that have been agreed between the government and MILF rebels as part of a final peace settlement.

The two sides have previously signed agreements on transition arrangements, wealth sharing and power sharing, after signing a preliminary peace plan in October 2012. Malaysia-brokered negotiations to tame the insurgency have been runnning since 1997.

The final comprehensive agreement is to be signed in the near future in Manila, the Philippine capital.

New autonomous entity

Under Saturday's agreement, rebels will turn over their weapons to a third party jointly selected by MILF and the government. In return, a regional police force would be established in the new Muslim autonomous area, which is to be called "Bangsamoro," in 2016. At the same time, the Philippine army would draw down its own troops in the region.

The new entity will largely control natural resources in the southern region of Mindanao, where more than 120,000 people have died in a bloody conflict that started in the 1970s.

Chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer (pictured left) welcomed the end to formal negotiations on a peace settlement, but said the bigger challenge of implementation still had to be overcome.

There are still at least four other smaller armed rebel groups operating in the south that are likely to hinder the restoration of peace in the region.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has said he hopes to secure a final peace settlement before leaving office in mid-2016.

tj/rc (dpa, AFP, AP)

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