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Philippine Muslim rebels hand over weapons

Nearly 150 guerrillas have turned over their weapons and will return to normal life as part of a peace deal brokered by Malaysia, but not everyone accepts plans for an autonomous Muslim region.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim at an arms decommissioning ceremony on Tuesday.

The Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group has handed over dozens of firearms to authorities, as part of a peace deal signed last year.

The handover of assault weapons, including mortar and rocket launchers, was attended by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III at a ceremony on Tuesday at a rebel camp near Cotabato City, about 800 kilometers south of Manila.

Following the move, one hundred and forty-five guerrillas from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will be considered deactivated and will receive government cash to help them re-integrate into society.

Hand over welcomed

Aquino hailed the MILF's decision to lay down arms saying: "With what they have done, they are telling us, brothers and sisters, we don't need our weapons anymore to protect ourselves."

MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim paid tribute to the fighters, describing how their faces showed stories of struggle, pain, hopelessness and even 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," he added.

The decommissioning was initiated despite delays to a proposed law that would create a new Muslim autonomous government in the southern region of Mindanao. The plans were negotiated following years of peace talks brokered by Malaysia.

A regional police force is due to be set up and the Philippine military will reduce its numbers locally under the proposals.

Amid fears the rebels may return to violence, some politicians have called for the peace process to be postponed and the draft legislation has since been watered down.

Not everyone wants peace

The 11,000-strong MILF rebels have carried out a four-decade terror campaign in the south of the country. Until recently, MILF fought for independence before revising its demands for an autonomous region. A breakaway group, The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, was formed about five years ago and still wants full independence.

The splinter group has been blamed for the murders of 44 elite police officers in January this year, during clashes between anti-terror squads and insurgents. The violence followed the killing of a top Southeast Asian terror suspect by police.

Over the years, hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted by the fighting.

mm/jil (AP, DPA)

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