Norway witness to first Philippines Mindanao rebels’ arms turnover

16 June 2015 was the start of the decommissioning process, which will put the combatants and their weapons beyond use as part of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, says a press release from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Manila.

In a ceremony held in Sultan Kudarat, the MILF (Philippines’ largest rebel group) registered and turned over 75 high-powered weapons to the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB), and 145 combatants were decommissioned to formally mark their return to normalcy.

A Moro rebel standing in front of a sign describing an intiative by the USAID “Growth With Equity in Mindinao” farming program staged at the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) outpost inside the MILF Camp at Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Southern Philippines. Photo: Mark Navales

The Philippine government led by the Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and the MILF Central Committee led by Chair Al Haj Murad as well as the international and local peace stakeholders attended the event. Norwegian Ambassador Erik Førner and Canadian Ambassador Neil Reeder also witnessed the arms turnover.

“We have been a committed partner to this process for several years—as part of the International Monitoring Team and now the IDB—and witnessing first-hand the beginning of the decommissioning is making a lasting impression. It means that the peace efforts are starting to bear fruit,” says Ambassador Førner.

Ambassador Erik Førner

The Norwegian government is part of the decommissioning process. Retired Brigadier General Jan Erik Wilhelmsen is the head of the IDB headquarters and seats as the vice-chair for the establishment of the IDB. Norway also deployed experts in the IDB headquarters and in the verification and monitoring assistance teams (VMAT) that will securely facilitate the decommissioning process.

There will be a gradual decommissioning of combatants and their weapons. The secure arms storage facility will be supervised by the IDB while the decommissioned forces will be provided with immediate cash assistance and PhilHealth cards, reports the Norwegian Embassy in The Philippines.

The handover of assault weapons, including mortar and rocket launchers, is a result of an accord signed between the rebels and the government in March 2014 and is being seen as a concrete action by the MILF to abandon a decades-old insurgency that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and led to the displacement of millions.

The hand-over is seen by many as a symbolic gesture – a symbol that the peace process will continue.

The Philippines’ parliament has been encouraged to pass a delayed bill designed to establish a more powerful autonomous region for minority Muslims in the south of the Catholic-majority nation.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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