Philippines, Muslim rebels only a step away from final peace accord

 26 Jan 2014 - 5:06


KUALA LUMPUR:  The Philippine government yesterday agreed the final chapter of peace talks with the country’s largest Muslim separatist group, clearing the last hurdle to an historic pact to end four decades of conflict that has killed tens of thousands.
Representatives from the Philippine government and the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf) signed the final and most challenging Annex on Normalization — the fourth part of a peace roadmap that was set out in October 2012. 
The conclusion of the talks, held in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, paves the way for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro that will allow the rebel group to set up an autonomous government to run parts of the poor, but resource-rich southern island of Mindanao — in exchange for decommissioning their weapons. 
“It marks the end of a process, which is the formal negotiations,” said Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the Philippine government’s chief negotiator. 
Two previous laws set up autonomous governments for Muslims in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country state, but poor implementation and a lack of legitimacy meant the separatist violence continued to fester.
The new proposed autonomous region will replace the existing five-province Muslim autonomous region, with a larger territory, expanded jurisdiction and greater powers to generate taxes.
The Annex on Normalization was seen as particularly sensitive because it dealt with the decommissioning of the Milf’s huge stockpile of weapons.
“There’s a lot of sacrifices on the part of Milf,” said Mohagher Iqbal, the rebels’ chief peace negotiator told a news conference. “To pay for peace, real peace, in Mindanao, we have to decommission our forces and put them behind us.” 
Iqbal said the exact number of combatants involved in the disarmament process has not been finalised, but will be subject to verification and validation by an independent decommissioning body.