Malaysian Truce Observers Pulling Out Of MindanaoJanuary 16, 2008 at 4:18 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment
COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 16, 2008) – Malaysian truce observers deployed in the southern Philippines are pulling out unless peace talks between the Philippines and Muslim rebels resume.
Maj. Gen. Datuk Mat Yassin bin Mat Daud, head of the Malaysian contingent, said they would return home by August if no agreement is forged between the Filipino government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, which are fighting for a separate state in the war-torn, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao.
Peace talks were stalled last after government and rebel negotiators failed to agree on the scope of the Muslim ancestral domain, which is the single most important issue in the negotiations before the MILF can reach a political settlement.
The ancestral domain covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region, which comprises five provinces, 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 Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.
President Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001, but since then no substantial agreements have been signed between the two sides, expect for the cease-fire accord.
“I doubt very much that IMT will stay in Mindanao (if no agreement is signed by then),” the Malaysian general said over a fellowship dinner hosted by Mayor Muslimin Sema, of Cotabato City, on Tuesday.
Yassin was referring to the International Monitoring Team, which 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.
Malaysia, an influential member of the Organization of Islamic Conference, is brokering the peace talks between Manila and the MILF, but it had previously threatened to pull out its contingent from the IMT if the negotiations remain stalled.
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said they wanted progress in the peace talks. The Malaysian truce observers have been in Mindanao the past three years.
Since the IMT arrived, fighting between security and rebel forces drastically decreased from 698 armed clashes in 2004 to just 7 incidents last year.
The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its truce observers from the IMT in Mindanao, whose 16 million populations included four million Muslims. (With a report from Abdullah Cusain)