Filipino MILF rebels lay down first arms in peace deal

June 16, 2015 9:28 AM (UTC+8)

 

(Al Jazeera and agencies)

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, one of the largest rebel groups in the Philippines has handed over a batch of firearms as a gesture to reinforce a peace pact reached with the government.

The new autonomy deal, signed in 2014 after years-long talks brokered by Malaysia, was expected to be a major legacy for President Benigno Aquino, a reformist leader whose six-year term ends in 2016.

Aquino and Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, leader of the 11,000-strong MILF, witnessed the handover of 75 assault weapons near a southern rebel stronghold, along with the identification of a first group of 145 fighters, who agreed to return to normal life with government promises of support.

The process was stalled because of deadly clashes between MILF rebels and army members earlier in the year.

Aquino said at the ceremony that the first phase of decommissioning of MILF was a very big step, showing their sincerity towards building a lasting peace.

He also called on all other Filipinos to support the rebel fighters’ transition from decades of fighting against the government towards civilian life.

Aquino inspects surrendered MILF arms
Aquino inspects surrendered MILF arms

The president admonished any of those who might have been criticising the peace agreement and said that they needed to work together to correct the wrongs of the past as they were all part of the problem which led to the alienation of Muslims in the south of the country.

“Let’s reciprocate the trust that the rebels gave to us,” Aquino said in calling for the passage of a law governing a future autonomous sub-state for Muslim minorities in Mindanao.

“They are extending their hand of peace.”

Al Jazeera’s Marga Ortigas, reporting from the capital Manila, said that the rebels have been in talks with the government for the last 17 years.

Ortigas said: “They saw many administrations come and go. And they took the will with the current administration to push this forward. Rebel leaders say that they are grateful to the president and want to see the deal passed into law, so that an autonomous Muslim region can be created in the south of the country.”

 

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