Philippine Muslim rebels take crucial step on path to pact

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 21, 2014 4:21 AM

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group has taken a crucial step in ending decades of conflict, formally submitting to the president a final proposal for self-rule that both it and the government have agreed on, a presidential adviser said.

The two sides signed a deal in March to end nearly five decades of conflict on the resource-rich southern island of Mindanao but hopes for peace were thrown into doubt this month when the rebels accused the government of reneging on the pact.

But 10 days of negotiations rescued the deal under which the main rebel group - the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) - has agreed to disband and rebuild communities in exchange for powers over the economy and society in the Bangsamoro region.

Big companies such as food processor Del Monte Pacific Limited, which has a pineapple plantation in Mindanao, said they were considering expanding operations after the deal but most have held back pending evidence of real peace.

"As agreed upon by the parties, the MILF submitted the final draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to the Office of the Executive Secretary yesterday evening," the presidential adviser on the peace talks, Teresita Quintos Deles, said in a text message on Thursday.

"As further agreed upon, the latest draft has been submitted to the president for his review. Further discussions may be held based on the guidance of the president," she said.

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The conflict has killed more than 120,000 people, displaced 2 million and hobbled economic growth in the poor region which has huge deposits of minerals, oil and gas.

President Benigno Aquino has made a strong commitment to the rebels to put in place a new autonomous government by January 2015 and he has asked the Congress of the largely Christian Philippines to speed passage of the law.

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Robert Birsel)