MILF rebels hand over arms in the Philippines

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (3-L) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (L) inspect surrendered firearms from the members of rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during the first phase of the decommissioning of rebel weapons in the town of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao province, Southern Philippines, 16 June 2015. Image copyright European Photopress Agency
Image caption President Benigno Aquino witnessed the handing over of the weapons

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel group in the Philippines has handed over its first batch of weapons as part of a peace process.

The event in Maguindanao, in Mindanao, was attended by President Benigno Aquino who hailed it as an important step forward.

Seventy-five weapons will be deactivated as a gesture of MILF's commitment to peace.

In 2012, the government and MILF agreed to a framework for a peace accord.

About 145 of the estimated 10,000 members of the MILF's armed faction, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, will be integrated into mainstream society.

"As I look at the faces of each of our 145 brothers here this morning, I see 145 stories of struggle, of pain, of hopelessness and even of death. Yet I also see 145 stories of hope and faith that indeed peace is near and that all the sacrifices have been worth it," MILF lead negotiator Murad Ebrahim said, in quotes carried by the AP news agency.

Image copyright European Photopress Agency
Image caption MILF said the decommission was one of the most difficult decisions the group had made

The government will provide a cash handout of 25,000 Philippine peso ($555; £355) to each of the combatants to be used for education, training and livelihood, The Philippine Star newspaper said.

It comes as a law implementing a peace deal between the government and MILF has attracted only lukewarm support in congress.

Dozens of police commandos were killed in clashes with the rebels earlier this this year.

President Aquino said that the number of weapons handed over on Tuesday was significant, AP reported.

"We are not talking of just one or a couple or a dozen firearms. These are high-powered firearms, modern and have not aged. These arms can deal and have dealt extreme suffering," he said at the ceremony.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process posted pictures of the weapons on Twitter.

The weapons will be held and decommissioned by an independent body.

'For the sake of peace'

"For the sake of peace, for the sake of having real peace in Mindanao and for the sake of the need for normalisation [of] the lives of the people including the combatants, we have to undertake decommissioning and put them [arms] beyond use," he said, The Star reported.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many Muslims rallied to press congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law that would implement a peace treaty

The 2012 framework for a peace deal came after 17 years of negotiations.

The Philippines government has agreed to give Muslims on Mindanao more autonomy in the Muslim-majority southern region. The rest of the Philippines is mainly Catholic.

In March last year, the government and MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement and are working on the Basic Law which will replace the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao with a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

The Philippines has faced separatist movements for decades in Mindanao, where the MILF is based, and in Jolo, home to the radical Islamist Abu Sayyaf group, which is reputedly linked to al-Qaeda.

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