Philippine Muslim self-rule bill due on Monday

MANILA (AFP) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino will on Monday receive a completed draft Bill to create a Muslim autonomous area, aimed at ending decades of fighting that has claimed thousands of lives, his spokesman said.

Receiving the draft Bill would allow Mr Aquino to quickly submit it to Congress so it could be quickly passed into law and implemented before the president's term ends in mid-2016, Mr Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma said.

The president on Monday will be handed the draft forged by government negotiators and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's main Muslim rebel group as part of the peace process, Mr Coloma told reporters.

"The president will prioritise and give his attention to this bill so it can be passed by Congress... as soon as possible in accordance to the roadmap and timetable," he said.

Mr Coloma said they wanted the law passed quickly so the election of the leaders of the Muslim self-rule area could be held alongside the 2016 national elections.

The 12,000-strong 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 group signed the peace agreement with the government in March where both sides would work to create an autonomous area in the southern Philippines which they consider their ancestral home.

However the process ran into difficulties after the draft bill was submitted to Mr Aquino for review in April by a joint commission of MILF and government representatives.

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.

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