After 32 rounds of calibrated negotiations, the outline of a deal came clear: a new autonomous region will take shape in the south, with Moro rebels giving up their quest for independence in exchange for broad powers to govern themselves. The central government will maintain control over defense and foreign affairs, while the Moros — their aging leaders worn down by decades of fighting — will exercise substantial powers locally, including the justice system and tax collection. Sharia law will be enforced but will apply only to Muslims.
Unlike the previous peace deal, this one calls for rebels to disarm.
Many tricky details remain. That includes the exact extent of the Moro territory. Although broadly based on an existing autonomous region, the rebels want it expanded. Other potential stumbling blocks are how much tax revenue the locals will have to give the central government, and how and when the 11,000-strong rebel force will be disbanded.
THE ABU SAYYAF:
Al-Qaida-linked militants from the brutal Abu Sayyaf group, which gained notoriety with kidnappings and beheadings of foreign tourists, including Americans, are not part of any peace deal. Abu Sayyaf and the Moro rebels cross paths in several parts of the Philippines. The hope is that a broader peace agreement with the Moro rebels will isolate the extremists and deprive them of sanctuaries and logistical support.
About 600 U.S. troops will continue to be based in the southern Philippines, training Filipino forces, exchanging intelligence and providing equipment. Mostly aimed at the Abu Sayyaf and their allies from the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah network, the U.S. forces are trying to ensure that the fragile region does not become a magnet for militants, which it may if peace deal falters.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.
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