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Philippines and rebels reach 'wealth deal'

Agreement to share wealth could pave way for final peace deal to end conflict that has claimed 150,000 lives.

Last Modified: 14 Jul 2013 11:00
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The Moro Islamic Liberation Front's guerrilla war for more autonomy has gone on for decades [AP]

The Philippines and a Muslim rebel group that has waged a guerrilla war since the 1970s have reached a crucial "wealth-sharing" deal, the government said, making a deal to end the conflict more likely.

Chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the government was cautiously optimistic of a final pact within weeks after it compromised with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) late on Saturday following six days of talks.

"This signing indicates that both sides are really committed to finish the peace negotiations. Nobody wants this not to reach its fruition," Ferrer told the AFP news agency after the deal was signed.

Under the deal, the government has agreed to let the rebels have a 75 percent share of earnings from natural resources and metallic minerals in a proposed autonomous region for the Muslim minority in the southern Mindanao region, Ferrer said.

For energy resources, both sides agreed to split earnings equally following the talks hosted by neighbouring Malaysia.

The government had initially bargained for a bigger share of the wealth, arguing that it wanted a deal that could withstand a legal challenge in the Supreme Court.

Disarmament talks

Ferrer said a final peace deal with the 12,000-strong MILF could be signed after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which stops at the beginning of August.

The decades-long conflict has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives.

President Benigno Aquino's government and the MILF signed a preliminary deal in October outlining the broad terms for a peace treaty that is expected to be signed before he ends his six-year term in 2016.

Ferrer, however, noted on Sunday that both sides still had to agree on a formula over how to disarm the rebels as well as the extent of the powers of the autonomous region.

MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar said the group expected a "more contentious" round of negotiations ahead.

"The MILF fighters will not disarm unless clear conditions and terms for their safety are met," Jaafar told AFP. "There must also be an assurance the fighters will be free from harassment from troops once they are disarmed, if
ever."

The proposed autonomous territory comprises areas the minority Muslims consider their "ancestral domain" in Mindanao, the country's main southern island believed to have a large chunk of the country's estimated $840bn
in gold, copper and other mineral reserves.

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Source:
AFP
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