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Muslim rebels hand over their weapons in new push for peace

Updated: 2015-06-17 07:50
By Agencies in Sultan Kudarat, Philippines (China Daily)

The Philippines' largest rebel group retired nearly 150 guerrillas and handed over 75 firearms for decommissioning on Tuesday to encourage the nation's Congress to pass a proposed law giving minority Muslims self-rule.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III visited the headquarters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to witness the weapons handover, the first concrete action by the organization to abandon a rebellion that has claimed more than 100,000 lives over a decade.

Aquino and senior Moro rebel leaders both said the largely symbolic activity was intended to spur Congress to pass a delayed proposed law giving Muslims self-rule in the Catholic nation's south under the terms of a 2014 peace treaty.

"This is one of the most difficult decisions we have made so far in more than 40 years of struggle," chief Moro rebel peace negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal said in a speech.

"We want to show the world that the Liberation Front will always comply with its obligations set forth in the signed agreement."

Aquino, who ends his six-year term in a year, wants the Muslim self-rule bill to be passed soon, fearing that his successor may not pursue the peace initiative.

"Let us show them that we are worthy of their trust," Aquino said in his speech.

Congress failed to pass the bill before it went into recess last week amid a public outcry over the killing of 44 police commandos by Moro rebels and other armed groups on the southern island of Mindanao in January.

The police officers were ambushed after they passed through Moro-influenced areas following a raid that killed Zulkifli bin Hir, a Malaysian militant and one of the most-wanted "terrorists" sought by the United States.

The passage of a law in the Philippine Congress that would authorize the creation of a more-powerful Muslim autonomous region in the country's south has been delayed. It is uncertain if the guerrillas will accept a watered-down version of the autonomy bill drafted by government and rebel representatives.

Work on the Muslim self-rule bill is expected to continue when Congress resumes on July 27, but congressional leaders have said it is unlikely to be passed before October.

The 75 Moro firearms, including 24 weapons such as mortars and machine guns, were handed over to an independent decommissioning body headed by Turkey and also comprising members from Norway and Brunei.

The haul is believed by Philippine police to comprise just a tiny fraction of the arsenal of the 10,000-member group.

Under the peace deal, 30 percent of Moro combatants and weapons will be decommissioned if Congress passes the Muslim self-rule law.

The weapons will be stored in a secure area controlled by the decommissioning body.

Another 35 percent will follow after the law is ratified in a regional plebiscite, while the remainder will be handed over once the regional government is established and its leaders are elected in May next year.

The 145 guerrillas who retired on Tuesday will return to civilian life and receive assistance from the government, peace negotiators said.


Muslim rebels hand over their weapons in new push for peace

Officials inspect weapons handed over by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebel group for decommissioning in Sultan Kudarat on Tuesday. Mark Navales / Agence France-Presse

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