Rebels hand in guns in Philippines Muslim peace deal

Rebels hand in guns in Philippines Muslim peace deal

Rebel fighters in the Philippines are handing in their weapons, in a process aimed at turning the
Rebel fighters in the Philippines are handing in their weapons, in a process aimed at turning the Moro Islamic Liberation Front into a regular political party AFP/Ferdinandh CABRERA

SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines: Muslim rebels in the mainly Catholic Philippines began handing over their guns to independent foreign monitors on Saturday (Sep 7), as part of a peace treaty aimed at ending a decades-long separatist insurgency that has left about 150,000 people dead.

Just over a thousand guerrillas are turning in 940 weapons in a single day, in a graduated decommissioning process that aims to turn the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest rebel force, into a regular political party.

The fighters demobilised on Saturday represent a symbolic first step toward retiring what MILF says is a force of 40,000 fighters in the coming years.

"The war is over ... I have no firearms left," Paisal Abdullah Bagundang, 56, a self-described veteran of more than 100 firefights with government security forces since the 1970s, told AFP.

About a third of Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants are to be retired in the first phase of
About a third of Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants are to be retired in the first phase of the Philippines' decommissioning process AFP/Ferdinandh CABRERA

But the disarmament will take time to make an impact in a place where violence is an almost daily threat.

A bomb hidden in a parked motorcycle exploded near a public market in Isulan town early on Saturday, just hours before President Rodrigo Duterte was to witness the decommissioning ceremony some 40km away in Sultan Kudarat.

Police said eight people were injured in the attack by unknown suspects.

The decommissioning process "should not lead to expectations that it is going to result in a major deceleration in attacks", said Francisco Lara, senior conflict adviser for Asia at watchdog group International Alert, noting that the general public in the region are also armed.

Some 40,000 Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters are set to be retired in the coming years
Some 40,000 Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters are set to be retired in the coming years AFP/Ferdinandh CABRERA

Officials hope putting rebel weapons "beyond use" will nudge the region away from the mindset that gun-ownership is essential to ensuring survival.

About a third of MILF combatants and their weapons are to be retired in the first phase of the decommissioning process.

"In order to have an enduring peace, we have to change the mindset of the people," Duterte peace adviser Carlito Galvez told reporters Friday.

Each retired fighter will receive a million pesos' (about US$19,000) worth of cash, scholarships, health insurance and training to become productive civilians.

Source: AFP/jt

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