The Philippine government and Muslim rebels agreed on a deal to end a 40-year conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people, President Benigno Aquino said on Sunday, paving the way for a political and economic revival of the country’s troubled south.
The agreement begins a roadmap to create a new autonomous region in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country before the end of Aquino’s term in 2016, giving the Muslim-dominated area greater political powers and more control over resources.
Expectations are high that after nearly 15 years of violence-interrupted talks, both the government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group will keep their pledges in the agreement, to be signed on October 15 in Manila and witnessed by Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The new entity, whose exact size will decided by plebiscites ahead of elections in 2016, will be called Bangsamoro — the term for those who are native to the region and which Aquino said honored “the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao”.
The south’s volatile and often violent politics could still hamper the plans. There is a risk that radical Islamic factions could split off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and carry on fighting in a region that has a history of links with al Qaeda militants.
Shortly after the announcement, a breakaway group said it would continue to fight for an independent Islamic state.