Philippine rebels order fighters not to carry guns

Philippine Muslim rebel leaders who are negotiating a peace deal with Manila ordered their fighters on Friday not to wear military uniforms or carry guns in public, a spokesman said.

The order to members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was relayed following unofficial complaints that rebel fighters were increasingly visible, wearing their camouflage uniforms and carrying firearms.

MILF spokesman Von al-Haq said the rebel leadership had immediately acted on the complaints and issued orders to the 12,000-strong rebel force in the southern Philippines.

"This is in order to show that the officials and men of the Bangsamoro (Filipino Muslim) armed forces are disciplined," he told AFP.

MILF fighters were told not to wear uniforms in "public places", to not make "uncoordinated movements" carrying firearms, or set up checkpoints on roads without orders from the leadership, the spokesman said.

Von al-Haq added that some MILF fighters had been wearing military attire and carrying weapons more openly following a "framework agreement" between the government and rebels in October.

The agreement paves the way for the eventual creation of an autonomous region for the Philippines' Muslim minority in the southern Philippines, although more negotiating still needs to be carried out before a final pact can be sealed.

President Benigno Aquino and MILF chief Murad Ebrahim witnessed the signing of the accord on October 15, which aims for a full peace deal by 2016.

The deal would include significant power and wealth-sharing with the MILF in a new autonomous region in the strife-torn south.

Muslim rebel groups have been fighting since the 1970s for full independence or autonomy in the south in a conflict that has claimed 150,000 lives.

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