Islamabad: Pakistan recorded the first large-scale voluntary surrender by separatist militants in its restive Balochistan province on Friday as the 180 million-strong nation celebrated its 69th independence anniversary with countrywide festivities.
Around 400 fighters from different ethnic Baloch militant groups involved in a long-running insurgency reportedly laid down their weapons before authorities at a ceremony in Quetta, capital of the southwestern province.
At the ceremony, held in an exclusive police area in Quetta, authorities warmly welcomed the surrendering militants and schoolchildren handed them miniature national flags, footage on local television channels showed.
You have laid down your weapons as per your free will, Commander Southern Command of the army Lt Gen Nasir Khan Janjua said on the occasion.
Provincial government home minister and officials were present at the function, which followed a recent announcement of a new peaceful Balochistan programme, approved by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to persuade estranged Baloch youth to join the mainstream community.
Janjua said, those who have given up arms are our brothers and Pakistanis, and they will be settled in their homes.
Balochistan Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Bugti thanked Sharif and Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, for the Peaceful Balochistan Programme.
Officials said the event marks the success of the reconciliation policy in the province plagued by violence for more than a decade.
Baloch separatists demanding more autonomy and control over gas and mineral resources have frequently targeted security forces and police for years.
Local media reports said those who renounced violence chanted slogans of long live Pakistan during the ceremony.
For their rehabilitation, the government of Balochistan has announced grants of rupees 500,000 to 1.5 million along with jobs for adults and education for children.
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