09/06/2019, 15.54
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Hope of peace in Mindanao: 12,000 Muslim rebels lay down their weapons

Since the 1970s, the conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and government forces has caused about 150,000 deaths and displace two million persons. The group’s dissolution is the result of peace deals with Manila. Ex rebels now run the new Bangsamoro autonomous region. For PIME Missionary, people want progress and development.

Manila (AsiaNews) – For the people of Mindanao, tomorrow will be a historic day, one that offers fresh hope of peace to the tormented southern island.

In Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao province, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte will lead a long-awaited ceremony that will start the demobilisation process of 12,000 soldiers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The group fought a long and bloody battle for self-determination that cost the lives of 150,000 people and displaced two million more since the conflict began in the 1970s.

MILF fighters returning to civilian life starting tomorrow constitute about 30 per cent of the approximately 40,000-strong Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the MILF's armed wing. The group’s dissolution is the result of peace agreements signed with Manila, which gave the now former rebels the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The new entity was established last January after the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). MILF leader Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim became the region’s interim chief minister, at the helm of the transitional body that will govern the region until legislative elections are held in 2022.

The last phase of the MILF normalisation process began on 26 August with the demobilisation of 30 older combatants under the supervision of the foreign-led Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity (OPAPRU).

Other MILF fighters will start laying down their weapons gradually. Tomorrow will be the turn of the first 1,060; 12,000 will have done so by 2020, and all 40,000 by 2022.

The MILF has prepared a list of all the combatants who will demob and take part in the government's reintegration programme into society. Each former rebel will receive 100,000 pesos (US$ 1,925) in cash. Their families will receive 500,000 to a million pesos (US,500-19,000) in accommodations, scholarships, and medical assistance.

In Mindanao, not all Muslim rebel groups are in favour of the process launched by the Filipino government and the MILF, said Fr Pietro Geremia, an 80-year-old priest with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), speaking to AsiaNews.

"Some citizens fear that these groups could join other extremists, who do not intend to end the armed struggle. After all, many rebels have fought all their lives and, in many cases, don't know anything but war. For this reason, there is a risk that they may turn to a criminal life.”

For their part, Mindanao Muslims are more interested in government-sponsored development projects than in the dissolution of the rebel force.

Hence, for the missionary, "There is great hope that the peace process will finally allow the Islamic community to get out of poverty. The prospect of progress and investments favoured the victory of the ‘Yes’ in the referendum on the autonomous region. Now people are anxious and want facts to follow proclamations.”

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