MANILA : The Philippine government and Muslim rebels on Sunday signed a crucial power sharing accord, paving the way for a final peace agreement aimed at ending a decades-long insurgency that has killed tens of thousands. The power sharing annex had been considered highly contentious, with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels seeking greater authority over a proposed autonomous region in the south which will cover Muslim-dominated regions of this mainly-Catholic archipelago of 100 million.

The accord, signed by negotiators from the government and MILF representatives in Kuala Lumpur, is yet another step towards finally ending the bloody insurgency in the southern Philippines. A joint statement said both sides had signed "the agreement on the delineation.

and sharing of power between the central government and the Bangsamoro (Filipino Muslim) Government" within the projected autonomous area. The statement added that both parties were now "confident" that they could soon sign the last remaining annex on normalisation and complete the comprehensive peace agreement by January 2014.

"The signing of the Annex on Power Sharing ensures the achievement of a genuine and viable autonomy for the Bangsamoro," Teresita Deles, the head of the government peace panel, said in a statement. "It has been a very difficult round but we were able to overcome a lot of obstacles." President Benigno Aquino congratulated both parties on the annex, his spokesman Herminio Coloma said.  Copies of the agreement, released late Sunday, outline the powers that will be reserved by the national government, those that will held by the government of the autonomous area and those that will be shared by both. The accord also sets the parameters of the "Bangsamoro assembly" that will govern the autonomous area while ensuring that tribal groups, Christian settlers and women are represented. While foreign policy, defence, monetary policy, immigration and global trade will remain under the control of national government, the Bangsamoro government will have powers over agriculture, employment, urban development, public works and environmental protection, the agreement said.