MILF ‘frees’ 50 child soldiers

CAMP NAVARRO, Zamboanga City — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) released about 50 children, who were previously engaged directly or indirectly in armed confrontations — acting as couriers and support staff to their fathers and relatives who are members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of the MILF in Mindanao — in a symbolic turn-over ceremony Sunday (Feb. 19, 2017) with the representatives of the government, UNICEF and MILF in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

The turnover was witnessed by Presidential Peace Adviser on the Peace Process Sec. Jesus Dureza; Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command chief; Maj. Gen. Zamrose, Head of Mission of the International Monitoring Team; and some local officials of Mindanao.

The activity was facilitated by UNICEF and the MILF Vice Chairman Gadzali Jaafar along with the different Base Commanders of the BIAF.

Jaafar, who was representing MILF Chairman Al Hadj Murad Ibrahim, said that the MILF is doing this to show its sincerity in supporting the peace process and that the MILF wants the next generation to benefit from today’s peace efforts.

“We need to unite for a better tomorrow because we believe that there is a better tomorrow,” said Jaafar.

On behalf of the President, Dureza lauded the efforts of the MILF, saying that “the government is happy that the endeavor has finally come to reality.”

He said he will talk to the other secretaries on how the government can provide support to the children in order to improve their social well-being and their communities.

According to the UNICEF country representative Lotta Sylwander, the ceremony was a historical event since the BIAF is the first and only armed group in the world that successfully turned-over children who were involved directly or indirectly in previous armed engagements.

The UNICEF which is responsible in profiling and identifying children among the BIAF members said that 60 percent of the children in their list are boys, while 40 percent are girls.

The group is actively helping countries which has internal and external conflicts, specifically looking into the welfare of the children who are commonly the victims of war.

The initial number of 50 is the first batch of children out of the 1,858 yet to be released from the statistical data of the international organization.

Galvez, who had been working closely with the MILF being the former Chairman of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), attended and witnessed the event.

“We must work hard today in order to ensure that the future will be peaceful. We must invest in the children because they are the ones who will be responsible for a peaceful and harmonious future,” Galvez said.

“The Armed Forces sees this as a welcoming development and will be very supportive in the implementation of activities intended to develop the welfare of these children,” he added.

Gadzali further commended Galvez for the tremendous achievements brought about by the successful collaborations made by the AFP and the MILF then and now.

“Major General Galvez is genuinely working closely and actively in understanding the problems and finding means to be able to contribute to its long-term solution,” said Jaafar.

During the turnover, certificates of disengagement were also accorded to the children indicating their-in their release from the organization.

Next batches of children are expected to be turned-over in the coming days after parents and relatives give their consent. PNA-northboundasia.com