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Philippines: MILF Hands Over Weapons, Retires Fighters

  • VOA News

Philippine President Benigno Aquino (far L) talks to a religious leader while Al-haj Murad Ebrahim (2nd L), chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), inspects a B40 rocket launcher during the Ceremonial Turnover of Weapons and Decommissioning

Philippine President Benigno Aquino (far L) talks to a religious leader while Al-haj Murad Ebrahim (2nd L), chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), inspects a B40 rocket launcher during the Ceremonial Turnover of Weapons and Decommissioning

A Philippine Muslim rebel group has retired dozens of fighters and handed over a batch of assault weapons to the government as part of a ceremonial show of commitment toward a stalled peace deal.

President Benigno Aquino was on hand Tuesday as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, decommissioned 75 firearms, including mortar and rocket launchers, and retired 145 guerillas into civilian life.

"What we are witnessing today... is a solid testament to the unreserved and honest participation of the MILF in our peace talks, and of their preparedness to abandon the path of violence," said Aquino.

The decommissioning was called for as part of a landmark 2014 cease-fire between the MILF and the national government that formally ended decades of fighting that killed more than 120,000 people.

Both sides hope the show of good faith will help spur Philippine lawmakers to fulfill another part of the peace deal: to approve legislation granting formal autonomy to the mostly Muslim southern region.

Lawmakers this month failed to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law, partly because of widespread public outrage over a January incident in which 44 government commandos were killed by MILF rebels.

The clashes, which resulted in the conflict's single largest loss of life in recent memory, erupted during a police raid to find two top terror suspects on the southern island of Mindanao.

It is now unclear when or if the BBL will be passed by parliament, which went on recess last week and is not due back in session until July 27.

In his speech, President Aquino praised the MILF for undertaking the "immense step" of decommissioning the weapons and urged lawmakers to "repay the trust they have shown us."

"They are extending their hand to us, inviting us to greater trust and cooperation. It is unfortunate, then, that some of our esteemed lawmakers respond to this invitation by advocating for a halt to the BBL," he said.

Although the weapons and fighters given up by the MILF on Tuesday represent only a fraction of the group's arsenal and fighting force, the move is seen as an important symbolic step.

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

"We want to show the world that the MILF will always comply with its obligations set forth in the signed agreement," he added.

Even before the January violence, the peace process already did not have the support of all the region's rebel groups. The most notable hold-out was the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, or BIFF, which broke away from the MILF in 2010 because of its opposition to the talks.

Pipe Bomb Kills Filipino Soldier

Meanwhile, suspected Abu Sayyaf extremists detonated a pipe bomb that killed a soldier and wounded eight others in an attack that was followed by a brief gun battle in a far-flung town in the southern Philippines.

An army infantry battalion commander, Lt. Col. Cristobal Paolo Perez, said the seven militants who attacked the military convoy Tuesday may have been trained by a Malaysian terror suspect, Abu Anas, who has been hiding in the jungle strongholds of the local insurgents.

The attack occurred in Tipo Tipo village on Basilan island.

Perez says the pipe bomb used in Tuesday's attack was similar to homemade explosives seized by the military in an Abu Sayyaf stronghold in Basilan, where Anas has made bombs and provided bomb-making training to Abu Sayyaf militants.

Material for this report came from the Associated Press.

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