A combat police force sniper gets into position to confront Moro National Liberation Front rebels in downtown Zamboanga City in the Philippines on September 9, 2013
MANILA: The Philippine government and Muslim rebels yesterday signed a crucial power sharing accord, paving the way for a final peace agreement aimed at ending a decades-long insurgency that has killed tens of thousands.
The power sharing annex had been considered highly contentious, with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels seeking greater authority over a proposed autonomous region in the south which will cover Muslim-dominated regions of the country.
The accord, signed by negotiators from the government and MILF representatives in Kuala Lumpur, is yet another step towards finally ending the bloody insurgency in the southern Philippines.
A joint statement said both sides had signed “the agreement on the delineation and sharing of power between the central government and the Bangsamoro (Filipino Muslim) Government” within the projected autonomous area.
The statement added that both parties were now “confident” that they could soon sign the last remaining annex on normalisation and complete the comprehensive peace agreement by January 2014.
President Benigno Aquino congratulated both parties on the annex, his spokesman Herminio Coloma said.
The accord sets the parameters of the “Bangsamoro assembly” that will govern the autonomous area while ensuring that tribal groups, Christian settlers and women are represented.
While foreign policy, defence, monetary policy, immigration and global trade will remain under the control of national government, the Bangsamoro government will have powers over agriculture, employment, urban development, public works and environmental protection, the agreement said.
In October last year the two sides had signed an initial pact on ending a conflict that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives, in preparation for a final agreement.
Under the plan, the 12,000-strong MILF would give up its quest for an independent homeland in the southern island of Mindanao in return for significant power and wealth-sharing in a new autonomous region there.
The newly-signed power sharing annex had been one of four preliminary accords that had to be completed before a final peace deal could be signed.
Two other annexes on transitional arrangements and sharing of revenues had already been signed earlier this year while a fourth annex, on normalisation, including the possible disarming of MILF guerrillas, is still being discussed.