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Muslim rebels agree first step to peace in the Philippines

Muslim rebels and the Philippine government overcame decades of hostilities and took their first step toward ending one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies with the signing of a preliminary peace pact yesterday.

The framework agreement, also called a road map to a final peace settlement which is expected by 2016, grants minority Muslims in the southern Philippines broad autonomy in exchange for ending more than 40 years of violence.

It was signed in Manila's Malacanang Palace by government negotiator Marvic Leonen and his counterpart from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mohagher Iqbal. There to witness the historic moment were President Benigno Aquino III, rebel chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose country helped broker the deal. Mr Najib said the deal "will protect the rights of the Bangsamoro people and preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines". But he also cautioned that it "does not solve all the problems, rather it sets the parameters in which peace can be found".

The 13-page document outlines agreements on major issues, including the extent of power, revenues and territory granted for a new Muslim autonomous region to be called Bangsamoro in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.