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Philippine government signs historic peace deal

Muslim areas win greater political autonomy

The Philippine government signed a peace deal with the country's largest Muslim rebel group after years of negotiations.

The deal grants largely Muslim areas of the southern Mindanao region greater political autonomy in exchange for an end to armed rebellion.

President Benigno Aquino III and leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf) witnessed the signing of the agreement in the presidential palace in Manila. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose country brokered the peace talks, attended the ceremony.

"In signing this agreement the two sides have looked not to the problems of the past, but to the promise of the future," Mr Najib said.

"After so many years of conflict, and so many lives lost, it is a momentous act of courage."

About 1,000 people attended the signing ceremonies, including guerilla commanders wearing business suits instead of their customary uniforms.

"For generations, fellow Filipinos in the region were embroiled in a cycle of poverty, injustice and violence," President Aquino said.

"If we are to truly address the root causes of conflict, we must close the gap between the region and the rest of Filipino society."

The peace accord concludes negotiations that began in 2001.

A ceasefire agreement had been in place since 1997 and has been largely observed by both sides.

More than 120,000 people have died in separatist violence since the '70s in Mindanao.

But other rebel groups in the south have vowed to keep fighting for full independence.

Under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the Milf agreed to end violence and drop a demand for separate state in exchange for broader autonomy.

An existing five-province Muslim autonomous region is to be replaced by a more powerful, better-funded and potentially larger region to be called Bangsamoro.

Rebel chairman Murad Ibrahim lauded the "shared victory of the Bangsamoro and the Filipino people."

He said the agreement "finally brings with it the restoration of the identity, powers and resources of the Bangsamoro.

These three things, which were ours since time immemorial, unjustly taken through colonisation and occupation, are now returned to us."

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