Philippine rebels sign landmark arms handover deal

ZAMBOANGA CITY - The Philippines government and former rebels Thursday approved a landmark scheme to decommission weapons in the country’s restive Muslim south, local media reported.

The protocol on decommissioning the arsenal of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, known as the MILF, comes four days after a prolonged firefight between the rebels and police commandos in Mindanao that left 44 officers dead.

Signed in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, the deal agrees details of how MILF weaponry will be "turned in... kept and put beyond use," Philippine website GMA News reported.

Under the agreement, the inventory of weapons and personnel belonging to the MILF’s armed wing will be verified by the International Decommissioning Body led by Turkish diplomat Haydar Berk, the country's former NATO representative.

In addition, there will be a ceremonial handover of weapons, the submission of a list of forces deployed by the MILF and a detailed description of where and how the MILF arms will be kept and put beyond use, GMA News said.

The armory to be initially handed over includes 20 "crew-served weapons and 55 high-powered firearms" held by the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, MILF’s military wing.

In a press statement prior to the signing, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process referred to an assurance by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal that the handover ceremony will take place at the "soonest possible time."

The decommissioning body, which includes members from Norway and Brunei as well as local experts, will "supervise the processing of combatants who will be decommissioned and assisted in their transformation to productive civilian lives," the presidential adviser’s office said earlier.

In a statement issued shortly after the signing, negotiators for both sides welcomed the establishment of a government Board of Inquiry and the MILF's Special Investigative Commission to examine Sunday’s events in Mamasapano in Mindanao’s western Maguindanao province.

An 11-hour battle broke out when police moved into the township without prior warning and were engaged by MILF fighters.

The casualties marked one of the bloodiest incidents for the security forces in years and threatened a peace deal signed last March by the MILF that aims to end a decades-long insurgency and establish a new autonomous region in the south’s majority-Muslim provinces.

Despite the Mamasapano clash, negotiators Thursday "reaffirmed their commitment to peace that has long eluded Mindanao."

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency