Philippine Muslim rebels lay down arms

Thousands of insurgents begin turning in weapons as 2014 part of peace deal with government
Philippine Muslim rebels lay down arms

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte looks on as former rebel leader Al Haj Murad Ebrahim touches a mortar during the "decommissioning" of rebel fighters and firearms in Mindanao on Sept. 7. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office)

Muslim rebels in Mindanao have started turning over their weapons to an independent body tasked with "decommissioning" fighters and firearms as part of a peace deal with the government.

Along with at least 920 high-powered firearms, at least 1,060 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces were "decommissioned" in a ceremony held in Maguindanao province on Sept. 7.

After four decades of fighting the government, Ebrahim Pendao, a 68-year-old Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighter, turned in his firearm.

"We are now treading the path of peace with the weapons that we are turning in to be put beyond use," Pendao told on the sidelines of the ceremony.

In exchange for "decommissioning," the rebel fighter received 100,000 pesos, about US$2,000. He also expects to receive assistance in housing, education, and livelihood.

"I hope the government will provide us with what has been promised because it will be big factor in determining whether peace will be sustained," said Pendao.

He said he plans to the use the money he received to start a farm.

Catholic priest Clifford Baira, social action director of Cotabato Archdiocese, welcomed the latest move in the implementation of the peace agreement, which was signed in 2014.

"In war, nobody is a winner, everybody loses," said the priest.

He said poverty in the region should be addressed to put an end to rebellion and conflict in Mindanao.

Part of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was the "decommissioning" of 30 percent of MILF’s combatants and weapons.

The MILF claims it has 40,000 combatants and 7,000 weapons.

Among firearms "decommissioned" on Sept. 7 were 20 high-powered weapons and seven shoulder-fired RPG 7 launchers.

"We are not surrendering," stressed MILF chairman, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, during the ceremony. "Decommissioning is not tantamount to surrender," he said.

Murad, who was appointed interim chief minister of the newly created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said the MILF will continue to honor its part of the deal.

He praised the "decommissioned" combatants, describing them as "not ordinary individuals."

"They are individuals whose lives were drastically affected," Murad said of the fighters. The rebel leader said the transition to civilian life would be challenging for all of them.

"These are 1,060 stories of love, faith, and sacrifice for the sake of Allah and for the sake of the aspirations of every Bangsamoro," he added.

"Now, our brave combatants will face a significantly different form of struggle to transform to civilian life and embrace a new mindset," said the rebel leader.

"Instead of going to the fields for conflict, we will now go to the fields to harvest our crops, instead of carrying firearms, we will now carry tools for work and education," he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte praised the rebel group for its adherence to the terms of the peace agreement.

"Do not be sad that you turned over your firearms to the government because you are now with the government," he said during the ceremony.

He said the decommissioning process is "a huge step toward our goal of achieving lasting peace for Mindanao."

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