Disarming of MILF starts

Disarming of MILF starts
Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels raise their firearms in celebration of the peace deal signing at Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao province, southern Philippines October 15, 2012.

KUALA LUMPUR - The difficult process of disarming Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels after a decades-long insurgency has started, negotiators said on Sunday, with the decommissioning of a first batch of firearms expected before yearend.

Philippine government and MILF negotiators started meeting in Malaysia on Saturday to discuss the disarmament process, key to ending the insurgency in Mindanao and enforcing a peace agreement signed by the two sides in March.

The two sides have appointed three foreign experts-from Brunei, Turkey and Norway -to join an independent body that will oversee the decommissioning process, together with four local experts who are yet to be nominated.

"Decommissioning is a delicate and difficult component of any peace settlement. It must be done effectively and sensitively," chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said in a statement.

The meeting will continue until Monday.

Chief MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said earlier that 75 assorted firearms, including high-powered rifles, would be stored and padlocked in a warehouse as part of the "normalization" process that will see the rebels trade their weapons for a chance to join mainstream society.

'Very difficult'

"Decommissioning firearms is really very difficult, but you have to undertake the ultimate sacrifice just to have the Bangsamoro," Iqbal said.

Bangsamoro is the proposed expanded autonomous region in Mindanao where the Philippines' Muslim minority will have self-rule under a pact they signed with President Aquino's administration in Manila in March.

The peace deal seeks to end four decades of fighting that left tens of thousands killed and stunted development in resource-rich Mindanao.

Ferrer had said that "the first order of business" for the meeting would be for the MILF to submit a list of weapons and combatants.

Military estimates place the strength of the MILF at 10,000. The group has not disclosed the size of its force or the number of weapons in its arsenal.

Decommissioning will be phased, depending on the delivery of government commitments under the peace deal, Iqbal said.

Ferrer said there was enough "goodwill" to push through with normalization after a bill that would grant the country's Muslim minority self-rule was submitted to Congress earlier this month.

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