Manila: In what would pave the way for ending the decades-long conflict in the nation, Phillipines has entered into a “framework agreement” with Muslim rebels group, President Benigno Aquino III said Sunday.
The peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was reached after prolonged marathon negotiations to end a 40-year conflict that has claimed 120,000 lives, the BBC said.
The deal paves the way for a new autonomous region to be established in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation`s south that would be administered by minority Muslims, said President in a televised announcement.
The newly created region would be named the "Bangsamoro" to replace an existing one, which was created in 1989 and that Aquino characterised today as a "failed experiment."
"This framework agreement paves the way for final and enduring peace in Mindanao," Aquino said.
Mindanao is Philippines` main southern region and the homeland of the country`s Muslims.
"This means that the hands that once held rifles will be put to use tilling land, selling produce, manning work stations and opening doorways of opportunity”, added Aquino.
He cautioned, however, that "the work does not end here." "There are still details both sides must thresh out," he said.
The agreement is expected to be signed in a few days in the capital, Manila, officials said. It spells out the general principles on major issues, including the extent of power, revenues and territory of the Muslim region.
If all goes well, a final peace deal could be reached by 2016, when Aquino`s six-year term ends, according to the officials.
The deal marks the most significant progress in 15 years of negotiations with the 11,000-strong Moro group on ending an uprising that has left more than 120,000 people dead and held back development in the south.
Western governments have long worried that rebel strongholds could become breeding grounds for al Qaeda-affiliated extremists.
The accord calls for the establishment of a 15-member "Transition Commission" that would thresh out the details of the preliminary agreement and draft a law creating the new Muslim autonomous region in about two years.
Despite the new accord, government negotiator Marvic Leonen called for "guarded optimism" during last week`s negotiations in Malaysia`s main city, Kuala Lumpur, saying both sides still face the enormous task of threshing out details.
In 2008, the planned signing of a similar preliminary pact was scuttled when opponents went to the Supreme Court, which declared the agreement unconstitutional. Fighting erupted when three rebel commanders attacked Christian communities, and an ensuing military offensive killed more than 100 people and displaced about 750,000 villagers before a cease-fire ended the violence.
With Agency Inputs