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Philippines Draws Up Peace Deal With Rebels
The Philippine government announced it has reached a preliminary peace deal with the nation's largest Muslim rebel group in a major breakthrough toward ending a decades-long insurgency.
President Benigno Aquino III said the "framework agreement" includes a roadmap for a new autonomous region for minority Muslim in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation's south.
He said the region was an assurance that Moro Islamic Liberation Front insurgents will no longer aim to secede from the country.
Due to be signed on October 15 in Manila, the agreement spells out general principles on major issues including revenues and territory and a final peace deal could be reached by 2016, at the end of Mr Aquino's six-year term.
He said: "This framework agreement paves the way for final and enduring peace in Mindanao.
"This means that the hands that once held rifles will be put to use tilling lands, selling produce, manning work stations and opening doorways of opportunity."
Rebel vice chairman Ghadzali Jaafar said the agreement provides a huge relief to people who have long suffered from war.
The deal marks the most significant progress in 15 years of on-and-off negotiations with the 11,000-strong Moro group.
Some 120,000 people have died during the uprising, and another two million have been displaced.
Western governments have been worried that rebel strongholds could become breeding grounds for al Qaeda-affiliated extremists.
Guerrillas formed a small al Qaeda-linked group called the Abu Sayyaf which became notorious for bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings until US-backed Philippine military offensives routed many of the militants in the southern provinces.
The 13-page agreement calls for the creation of a new Muslim autonomous region called "Bangsamoro", with rebel forces being gradually deactivated.