Philippine president, rebel chief secretly meet and agree on contentious autonomy bill

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A Philippine official says the president discreetly met with a Muslim rebel leader last week in Manila and both helped untangle thorny differences over a proposed autonomy law they hope will end decades of bloody rebellion in the south.

Presidential adviser Teresita Deles said Monday that President Benigno Aquino III and Al Haj Murad Ebrahim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front endorsed a draft of the law at an unannounced meeting last Thursday at the presidential palace. The draft will be submitted to Congress this week.

After years of Malaysian-brokered negotiations, the government and the 11,000-strong Muslim rebel group, the largest in the south, signed in March a peace deal to establish a more powerful and potentially larger Muslim autonomous region.

Differences, however, threatened to stall the autonomy legislation's drafting.