Sultan Kudarat: Hundreds of Muslim rebels lined up in the Philippines on Saturday to register as voters, keeping faith with a 2014 peace pact that was thrown into doubt after 44 policemen were killed in a botched terror raid.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels, unarmed and wearing civilian clothes, had their photographs and fingerprints taken at a government building in the southern town of Sultan Kudarat to qualify for voter identification cards.
"They are all very eager to take part," Von al Haq, spokesman for the 10,000-member MILF`s military wing told AFP.
Some would be voting for the first time, he added.
"This is part of our preparations to lead our own government," he said, referring to a March 2014 agreement in which the MILF committed to end an armed rebellion that has claimed 120,000 lives.
As part of the deal, the MILF is to disarm and President Benigno Aquino is set to legislate an area of Muslim self-rule.
Rey Sumalipao, regional head of the government`s Commission on Elections, told AFP he expects about 1,500 members to register within the day to allow them to vote in national and local elections.
Other MILF members are expected to apply later, he added.
Muslim rebels have been battling for independence or autonomy in the southern islands of the mainly Catholic Philippines since the 1970s.
The peace process was thrown into doubt on January 25 when MILF forces and other armed groups ambushed police commandos going after Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, one of the world`s most wanted Islamic militants.
The fighting left 44 policemen dead and sparked a public backlash, causing parliament to suspend debates on the proposed self-rule law.
The MILF returned some of the dead commandos` weapons and pledged to go after other militants sought by the Philippine courts, but rejected Aquino`s demand that it surrender those who took part in killings.
Rebel leaders said they would impose their own sanctions on those found at fault.
The Senate and the House of Representatives have since said they will resume discussions on the bill that they said would likely pass by mid-June.
Al Haq, the MILF spokesman, said Saturday the high rebel turnout was proof they remained committed to the peace process.
"We`re very confident that the peace process will continue," said Al Haq, adding he last voted in 1986 before becoming a full-time guerrilla.