The Philippine government and rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front say they have agreed on ways to implement a shaky cease-fire, aimed at ending three decades of fighting in the southern Philippines. The two sides announced the accord Thursday on the first day of talks sponsored by Malaysia.
The two delegations say they have formed a joint committee to supervise a ceasefire and have adopted what they call a manual of operations.
The chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, Murad Ibrahim, told reporters the agreement includes monitoring teams with members from both sides and detailed instructions on how the cease-fire will be implemented. "We are translating into action what we have already agreed," he said. "So it's easy for us. We have already the agreement, the prior agreement. We are just translating it into details and action."
The Philippine government's chief negotiator, Jesus Dureza, said Thursday's accord was a fine tuning device and outlined the next steps. "I think the important part would be for us to go to the ground, to start doing workshops, meeting with the local stakeholders, so that they will be helping us in keeping the peace in these areas," he said.
The two sides signed a formal ceasefire agreement last July, but it has been repeatedly broken. Each side blames the other for the violations, which the rebels say number 12 and the government says killed at least 44 people.
The rebels for nearly 30 years have been fighting for an independent Muslim state in Mindanao, in the south of the mostly Roman Catholic Philippines. However, they recently said they would consider government proposals for greater autonomy for the region instead of independence.
The government four years ago signed a peace accord with another rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front. This accord created the Autonomous Regional Muslim Mindanao, or ARMM.
The MILF is asking for further concessions and greater economic assistance to the region.
This week's talks are to focus on economic rehabilitation for the war-ravaged region, and what is termed the return of ancestral lands. The two sides say progress in these areas could lead to the signing of further accords in the coming days.