Malaysia’s Threat To Pull Out Truce Observers In Mindanao Is Real: MILF

October 5, 2007 at 4:57 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 05, 2007) – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Friday confirmed that Malaysia has threatened to pull out its truce observers in Mindanao, probably next year, if Manila fails to make progress in the peace talks with Muslim rebels.

Malaysia said it wanted progress in the seven-year old peace talks between the MILF and the Filipino government. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia’s involvement in the mission to monitor the conflict in Mindanao might be extended but not indefinitely.

“They will be extended but the extension cannot be indefinite. So, we want to see progress in the talk,” he said.

Kuala Lumpur has shortened the stay of the IMT in Mindanao, from one year to only three months. Members of the Malaysian Defense Forces had been in Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines, since 2004 as part of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

The IMT is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Japan also has a member in the IMT.

But despite the peace talks and a fragile truce signed seven years ago, sporadic clashes between soldiers and rebels still continue in Mindanao. However, the presence of the IMT prevented the clashes from further spreading.

“Malaysia has threatened really to pull out from the IMT unless the stalled peace talks move on and we could not imagine how the peace process would be without the IMT and without a third country brokering the negotiations.”

“The peace process could be imperiled once the IMT pulls out in Mindanao or Malaysia stops mediating in the negotiations. But the MILF is prepared for any situation, bad or worse,” a senior MILF rebel leader, who asked not to be identified, told the regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.

Manila has been negotiating peace with the MILF, the county’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in the troubled, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao, whose 16 million populations include about 4 million Muslims.

The region had been embroiled in political dispute and power struggle between the government and rebels for more than three decades.

Filipino government officials have been trying to downplay Malaysia’s statement and blamed the media for the inaccurate news.

“Malaysia has contributed immensely to our peace efforts and we are confident it will continue to be with us and other nations in our peace and development work,” Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential peace adviser, said in a statement on Friday.

Dureza said the peace talks are progressing, but the MILF said they were not. The MILF accused President Gloria Arroyo of wasting away seven years in peace talks.

“Don’t dribble too much, 2001 to 2010 is too long for a decisive President to clinch an agreement with the MILF to address the problem in Mindanao,” Jun Mantawil, another senior leader, said.

“The government will not be short of pretensions why the talks are not moving, but what it cannot hide is the fact the remaining term of President Arroyo is not far away and even the ancestral domain aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001 has not been hurdled by the two parties despite the excellent facilitation of the Malaysian government,” he said.

Peace talks have been stalled since September last year after both sides failed to agree on the issue of ancestral domain, which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland. It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

Last week, Philippine and MILF peace negotiators held secret talks in Kuala Lumpur, but both sides failed to arrive at an agreement that would end more than three decades of insurgency in the southern Philippines.

Malaysia, an influential member of the Organization of Islamic Conference, has brokered the talks in an effort to revive the stalled peace negotiations.

The rebels were insisting on the ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

Manila has previously offered the MILF the whole of the Muslim autonomous region, which is composed of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi which are among the poorest in the country torn by strife and clan wars since its creation in 1989. The rebels rejected the offer.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks in 2001 with the MILF and signed a truce, but negotiations were slow and rebels said the government is only using the talks to prevent hostilities from erupting in Mindanao until her term ends. (Mindanao Examiner)

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