More than 300 militants across the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan have surrendered over the past few months, officials say.
Some 313 militants from three separatist movements handed over weapons during a high-profile ceremony to Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, the chief minister of the province. The ceremony took place on the lawn of the Balochistan provincial assembly in city of Quetta on Saturday.
“I will hug all that who believe in integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan but will not tolerate (those) who will challenge the writ of the State,” Zehri said at the ceremony, which marked the downing of guns and the return of militants to civilian life.
According to local Pakistani officials, the latest ceremony saw surrenders by 143 militants from the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), 125 fighters from the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and 17 from Baloch Liberation Front (BLF).
In April, the Pakistani government held a similar ceremony where about 400 militants handed over their guns.
About 2,000 militants have surrendered over the past 18 months.
The surrenders are part of the government’s efforts to end a decade-long insurgency in the troubled province by offering amnesties and financial rewards to soldiers and commanders to help them re-integrate into the society.
Under the agreement, foot soldiers are given 500,000 rupees ($4,700) and the top-level commanders receive about 1 million rupees ($9,500) to help them and their families build a life after militancy.
Local administration in Balochistan and the army tout the amnesties as an effective way to reduce the power of separatists operating across the violence-hit region.
Separatist militants in the province have also been engaged in a decades-long campaign against the central government.
Quetta, the largest city of Balochistan, has seen several bombings and shooting attacks over the past years.
Balochistan was rocked by a series of terrorist attacks late last year, raising fears about an increasing presence of armed militants in the area, including terrorists linked to the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group.
Pakistan has been witnessing violent terrorist attacks over the past decade. Militants with the Pakistani Taliban have largely been blamed for the violence, but responsibility for some of the bombings was claimed by the Daesh terrorists.
Pakistan estimates that there have been 70,000 casualties in militant attacks since it joined the US campaign against militants after the September 11, 2001 attacks.