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Decommissioning of MILF fighters, weapons starts

By Manuel T. Cayon |Mindanao Bureau Chief

SIMUAY, Maguindanao—The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) decommissioned 145 of its fighters, including those who saw action in the series of major battles in the last decade, and 75 weapons.

The MILF turned in 75 weapons, from a World War II-vintage Browning caliber .50 machine gun and B-40 rocket-propelled grenade launchers to caliber .50 Barret sniper rifles and a lone vintage Browning Automatic Rifle. The weapons were turned over to an independent international body chaired by a representative from Turkey.

The decommissioned MILF fighters were selected by the MILF leadership and were validated on Tuesday by a team formed by the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB). The IDB has representatives from Brunei Darussalam and Norway.

Many of them were in their late 50s and some of them wore the distinguishable caps worn by Muslims who have gone on pilgrimage to Mecca. Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the average age of the decommissioned fighters was 46.4 years.

An MILF leader, however, refused to reveal how many guerrillas would be officially decommissioned but said they have all been identified and the names were listed in the agreements with the government.

A Norwegian IDB officer said the weapons would be sent to a storage facility at the headquarters of the Army’s 603rd Infantry Brigade in Camp Iranun, Maguindanao. The camp used to be the MILF’s Camp Abubakar that was seized by government forces in 2000.

The British charge d’affaires in Manila, Trevor Lewis, on Tuesday welcomed the first phase of decommissioning of MILF weapons saying: “The decommissioning of 50 high-powered and 25 crew-mounted weapons, and transition to civilian life of 145 Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces [fighters], is a significant and welcome step in the peace process.”

“With legislation still pending in Congress, this event underlines the continued commitment of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to pursue its objectives through political rather than violent means. As with any peace process, the process of normalization is linked to political milestones, the next of which will be the passage of legislation to make the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro a reality,” he said.

Community policing

A COMMUNITY policing project that was designed and funded by the United Kingdom is currently being implemented in the Bangsamoro region in support of the ongoing peacebuilding and transition process in Mindanao.

The project, which is being implemented in the provinces of North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, will complement the  proposed Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBar)  pending in Congress.

The 12-month project, which is being funded by the UK government under the Golden Thread Official Development Assistance, will boost the trust and partnership between the community and the local police force, which is critical element in the peace process.

British Ambassador Asif Ahmad said the project was a part of the increased cooperation between the UK and the Philippines in addressing conflict, as he recognized the importance of a more localized approach to policing.

“As we’ve seen elsewhere in the world, wherever there’s weakness, conflict, or an unresolved situation, it attracts malcontent people. If you create a vacuum, it will be filled by others,” Ahmad said.

“We need to work together to solve these problems. It is through building trust within the community that the police will be able to operate,” he added.

Funding assured

THE Aquino administration assured that local and foreign funding assistance are being worked out to bankroll sustainable economic programs for Bangsamoro communities.

Palace officials gave the assurance, but did not specify funding sources, as President Aquino witnessed the decommissioning of aging MILF fighters and weapons on Tuesday.

In his speech for the occasion, Aquino acknowledged the need to return the goodwill shown by the MILF leadership, despite the failure of Congress to pass the Bangsamoro basic law (BBL) before adjourning last week, as earlier agreed with the Palace.

At the same time, Aquino pitched anew for the early passage of the BLBar when Congress reconvenes after a four-week recess.

“Kung ang pananaw mo ay pahirapan ang pagpasa ng batas, para mo na ring sinabing ipinagdamot natin ang dapat sana’y sa kanila; sinigurado nating wala silang pagkakataong umangat; ginarantiya nating di na sila bababa sa bundok,” he said adding that was the equivalent of BBL’s nonpassage.

“Iyon ang katumbas ng pagtutol sa BBL. Hindi nga puwedeng sasabihin mong  para ka sa kapayapaan, pero pinahihirapan mo ang pagbalangkas ng BBL. Iyon bang di ka na nga nakuntento sa siyam na butas ng karayom, nagdagdag ka pa ng pansampu at panlabing-isa; parang wala ka nang ibang hangarin kundi siguruhing walang puwang para sa kapayapaan.”

Abu Sayyaf sanctuary

A SOLDIER was killed while eight others were wounded in Basilan on Tuesday after the truck they were riding hit a landmine planted by Abu Sayyaf Group bandits who sought refuge in an MILF area after they were pursued following a brief firefight in Basilan.

The homemade bomb had the imprints of a Malaysian bomber, who is a member of the Jema’ah Islamiyah that was monitored to be in the province, according to Lt. Col. John Paolo Perez, 18th Infantry Battalion commander. He declined to identify the Malaysian terrorist.

The military earlier said that at least five foreign jihadists, three of them Malaysians, including a former member of the Malaysia’s Special Forces, were in the province assisting and working with the Abu Sayyaf bandits.

Perez said the attack occurred at around 8:05 a.m. near the boundary of the towns of Albarka and Tio-tipo in Basilan. The troops were on route security operations at the time.

“Today [Tuesday] is market day in Tipo-tipo and normally, if it is a market day, we provide route security…clearing, but they [bandits] managed to slip in,” he said.

(With Butch Fernandez and Rene Acosta)

 

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8 comments
  1. for those who are saying that decommissioning of 75 weapons is “walang kwenta”, there is a reason why 75 weapons lang! this is a symbolic rite and not the actual decommissioning yet

  2. This is not simple for any rebel groups to lay down their arms for the sake of lasting peace in Mindanao. Thus, the MILF is indeed sincere to their cause! May God enlightened our lawmakers to widen and understand the urgency of BBL in the lives of Mindanaons.

  3. Masters of deception!

    Where are the 10,000 units of firearms and fighters for Bangsamoro Islamic ARMED FORCES??

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