BERN, Switzerland (AP) _ Switzerland has approved the transfer to the Philippines of nearly a half-billion dollars in Swiss bank accounts of the late Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.

Zurich District Attorney Peter Cosandey said today that the decision, which is still subject to appeals, would put the money into an escrow account in the Philippines pending court action there.

The move was a major step in the 10-year battle between the Philippine government and the Marcos family for control of the money that the Philippines claims Marcos plundered from the national treasury during his 1965-86 rule. He imposed martial law starting in 1972.

Victims of human rights abuses under Marcos, who died in exile in Hawaii in 1989, said the transfer could make it harder for them to collect compensation from the Marcos estate because the Philippine government claims the money.

Cosandey, the Swiss official in charge of the case, confirmed to The Associated Press that he had made the decision Aug. 21. The AP learned of the move initially from a lawyer representing the Philippines.

The Marcos family, which had fought to prevent the money from being transferred to Philippine government control, applauded the decision now that the money was moved to an escrow account.

``I'm happy if there is a decision to bring the so-called Marcos assets to the Philippines,'' said his widow, Imelda. ``Because ever since the death of my late husband ... I have been concerned in the implementation of his last will and testament to give his wealth to the Filipino people.''

The Philippine government had said in April that it was negotiating a settlement to divide the money with the Marcos family. Lawyers later said the negotiations had broken down, and it was unclear if the latest development was related to such a deal.

The two banks that hold the bulk of the assets _ Swiss Bank Corp. and Credit Suisse _ said they would appeal the decision. They fear that even if they turn money over to the Philippines, they could later be ordered to pay victims of the Marcos regime if a U.S. court rules that the Philippine government and the Marcos family are conspiring to deny the victims a $2 billion award.

Some 10,000 dissidents won the award in a 1989 class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Hawaii, and many of the dissidents said transferring the money to the Philippines would lessen their chances of ever seeing any of it.

``They made it hard for us to get the money from Switzerland, ... (and) they will make it harder for us once the money is here,'' said Mari Enriquez, secretary general of Selda, a group of former political detainees who were among the plaintiffs in the Hawaii lawsuit.

The Swiss Federal Tribunal ruled in 1990 that the transfer should wait until the Philippine courts decide who is entitled to the money _ which has not yet happened.

But Cosandey agreed with arguments of the Philippine government that the courts have already made some preliminary judgments, and that its court system has improved to the point where the money would be safe in an escrow account in the Philippines.

Many cases are still pending in the Philippines, including many criminal cases against Mrs. Marcos and others, and a complaint of forfeiture against the Marcos estate.

In 1983, a court convicted Mrs. Marcos of graft committed during Marcos' rule. She was sentenced to 24 years in prison, but is out on bail pending appeal.

The exact amount of the assets, which have grown with interest since Switzerland first blocked them in 1986, wasn't disclosed, but sources close to the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was about $475 million.

Officials have said the Marcos family may have more assets in Switzerland. Cosandey decided in the 1980s to deal first with the accounts of Marcos and his wife, leaving for later rulings any other deposits made by his entourage.

The Philippines initially claimed that Marcos had hidden $15 billion in Switzerland.

It was rumored that the horde included 300 tons of gold in Zurich customs-free storage, but that has never been confirmed. Cosandey ordered a search for Marcos gold in the Zurich airport last year, but nothing was found.