KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The Philippine government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group completed talks Saturday on a deal to end four decades of fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people and helped foster Islamic extremism in Southeast Asia.
The accord between Filipino negotiators and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front calls for Muslim self-rule in parts of the southern Philippines in exchange for the deactivation of the rebel force. Military presence in the proposed autonomous region would be restricted.
Much now will depend on how the accord is enforced, in particular whether the 11,000-strong rebel forces are able to maintain security in areas that would come under their control. At least four other smaller Muslim rebel groups, including al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf, are still fighting the government in the southern Mindanao region and could act as spoilers.
Officials from both sides announced the conclusion of talks in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, which has brokered the yearslong negotiations. The accord and three other pacts signed last year make up a final peace agreement that is to be signed in the Philippine capital, Manila, possibly next month, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
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“This will give the just and lasting peace that our brothers in Mindanao are seeking,” said Lacierda, referring to the volatile southern region and homeland of minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
Chief government negotiator Miriam Ferrer said that concluding the talks “marks the beginning of the bigger challenge ahead, which is the … implementation.”
Saturday’s accord has been the most significant progress made in 13 years of negotiations to tame an insurgency that has left more than 120,000 people dead, displaced more than 2 million people and derailed development in Muslim-populated southern regions that are among the most destitute in the Philippines.
The conflict between Muslim insurgent groups in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao and the Christian-dominated government in the northern part of the country has simmered since the late 1800s. Every government since Philippine independence in 1946 has struggled to resolve the issue.
Earlier interim agreements dealt with sharing power and resources. Under those deals, the national government would retain authority over national defense, foreign policy and monetary issues, while the newly formed autonomous region, to be called Bangsamoro, is expected to have broad local powers.
The two parties also agreed that 75 percent of the tax revenue from metallic minerals mined in the region would stay in Mindanao. In addition, 50 percent of the taxes collected from fossil fuels developed in the region would remain with local authorities.
Saturday’s agreement dealt with disarmament. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front agreed to incorporate some of its 11,000 fighters into the Philippine military and gradually disarm the others with the oversight of a yet-to-be-named third party. On Saturday, the two parties also agreed on the maritime borders of the newly formed autonomous region.
After the deal is formally signed, it must be passed by the Philippine congress and approved through plebiscite in the newly formed autonomous areas.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.