The Philippine government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group said Friday they had wrapped up talks aimed at ensuring the terms of a landmark peace deal would be enacted into law.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the peace agreement in March, but it fell into serious question amid a row over a draft law to create a Muslim self-rule area in the south of the mainly Catholic nation.
“After a series of productive meetings… we have concluded discussions on the various issues involving the draft Basic Bangsamoro Law,” President Benigno Aquino’s chief aide Paquito Ochoa and chief MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said in a joint statement.
The MILF has been fighting since the 1970s for an independent or autonomous homeland for the nation’s Muslim minority in a conflict which has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
The Aquino government and the MILF signed an accord in March that laid out a roadmap for final peace by the middle of 2016.
The deal called for MILF control of a new southern autonomous region, and the rebels would lay down their arms.
However the process ran into difficulties after a draft bill creating the autonomous region was submitted to Aquino for review in April by a joint commission of MILF and government representatives that drew up the document.
The president’s legal team later ordered a series of changes that frustrated the MILF, which last month accused the government of trying to renege on the terms of the peace agreement.
The joint statement said Friday the resolutions arrived at by both parties since the new talks began on August 1 “will be incorporated into the final draft Basic Bangsamoro Law that will be prepared and submitted to” Aquino.
The statement did not discuss the details of these resolutions.
The fresh talks were seen as crucial to keep the peace roadmap on schedule, allowing time for Congress to pass the self-rule law by the end of this year or early next year.
The deadline of mid-2016 was set since Aquino must stand down by then after the end of his single six-year term as mandated by the constitution. There are no guarantees his successor will want to proceed with the peace plan.