MANILA - The Philippine government and the country's largest Muslim rebel group signed a peace deal on Monday that serves as a roadmap to forming a new autonomous region in the south, a step towards ending more than 40 years of conflict.

President Benigno Aquino and Ebrahim Murad, head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), held one-on-one talks before the signing of the landmark framework agreement. It was Murad and Aquino's second meeting since early August 2011 when they held secret talks in Tokyo, a major turning point in the violence-interrupted peace negotiations that have lasted nearly 15 years.

"Much work remains to be done in order to fully reap the fruits of this framework agreement. We have commitments to fulfill, people to lead, and dreams to achieve," Aquino said before the signing ceremony at the Malacanang palace.

Aquino is expected to issue an executive order shortly to form a 15-member transition commission that will formulate new legislation by 2015 to create a new Muslim local government for the "Bangsamoro", the name given by the Moro tribes for their homeland. A plebiscite later in Muslim-dominated areas in the south will determine the shape and size of the new Bangsamoro area.

The agreement did not give details of the power-sharing arrangement between the national government and the Bangsamoro. But it guarantees rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims, unlike a 2008 deal that was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

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