Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) at their stronghold at Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao province in southern Philippines. Pic: AP.

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government has signed a peace accord with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, formally ending decades of conflict in parts of a southern region.

President Benigno Aquino III and rebel leaders witnessed the signing Thursday in the presidential palace in Manila.

Talks on the deal began in 2001 and a cease-fire has been in place since 1997.

The agreement will create an autonomous Muslim region in a large part of the southern Mindanao region.

The signing is a major political victory for Aquino midway into his six-year term, but much work remains to ensure the accord’s full implementation.

Mindanao is home to other insurgent groups, at least one of which has vowed to keep fighting.