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Muslim insurgents near Philippines peace accord

MANILA — The Philippine government and the country’s largest Muslim insurgency group worked out the final details of a historic peace agreement Saturday that many hope will end more than 40 years of violence that has killed tens of thousands of people and helped nurture Islamic extremism in Southeast Asia.

“The agreement represents the culmination of decades of excruciating diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the conflict in Mindanao,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science lecturer at Ateneo de Manila University. “This provides an unprecedented opportunity to end one of the world’s longest-running intrastate conflicts.”

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Although many challenges remain — notably that some militant groups have refused to join the agreement — the peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is considered a signature achievement for President Benigno S. Aquino III.

Aquino has vowed to end the conflicts in the south that have bedeviled the Philippines for more than a century and have hindered the nation’s ability to expand its economy and catch up with its more prosperous neighbors.

The deal is not expected to be signed until at least next month, but that is considered just a formality.

In recent decades, the conflict has claimed 120,000 lives and displaced 2 million people.

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The conflict between Muslim insurgent groups in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao and the Christian-dominated government in the northern part of the country has simmered since the late 1800s. Every government since Philippine independence in 1946 has struggled to resolve the issue, through peace talks and sometimes military action.

In recent decades, the conflict has claimed an estimated 120,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million people. It has also kept the southern Philippines mired in poverty even as the country has had an economic renaissance of sorts. Last year it was one of the fastest growing economies in East Asia, with a growth rate that surpassed China’s in some quarters.

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“In a world looking for peaceful solutions to all troubles, we are grateful that we have found ours,” said Teresita Quintos Deles, a presidential adviser on the peace talks after the agreement was signed Saturday. “The best is yet to come.”

The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have been working on the details of the peace deal since October 2012, when they reached a framework agreement for ending the conflict.

“This was the final agreement on the remaining details,” said Amado Mendoza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines.

Earlier interim agreements dealt with sharing power and resources. Under those deals, the national government would retain authority over national defense, foreign policy, and monetary issues, while the newly formed autonomous region, to be called Bangsamoro, is to have broad local powers.

The two parties also agreed that 75 percent of the tax revenue from metallic minerals mined in the region would stay in Mindanao. Also, half the taxes collected from fossil fuels developed in the region would remain with local authorities.

Saturday’s agreement dealt with the sensitive issue of disarmament. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front agreed to incorporate some of its 11,000 fighters into the Philippine military and to gradually disarm the others with the oversight of a yet to be named third party. On Saturday, the two parties also agreed on the maritime borders of the newly formed autonomous region.

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