Sunday, November 30, 2008

Malaysia pulls out remaining peacekeepers in Southern Philippines

The remaining contingent of Malaysian peacekeepers, who were part of the International Monitoring Team, departs Mindanao on Sunday, November 30, 2008. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service / Mark Navales)

SHARIFF KANSUNSUAN, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Nov. 30, 2008) – Malaysia has pulled out Sunday all its remaining peacekeepers in the restive southern Philippines island of Mindanao.

Peace talks between Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Arroyo government collapsed in August after the failed the signing of the Muslim homeland deal. The failed deal triggered rebel attacks in August in several provinces in Mindanao.

Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, a Philippine Army spokesman, said the remaining 12 Malaysian peacekeepers led by Admiral Dato Pahlawan Amzah Bin Sulaiman flew out of Mindanao onboard a Malaysian Air Force transport plane. The Malaysians were part of the International Monitoring Team composed of Libya, Brunei and Japan and Canada.

“The terms of reference of the IMT, which expired today, had not been renewed and the remaining 12 Malaysian peacekeepers were recalled by their government. They left at 2.45 p.m. today from the Awang airport (in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Shariff Kabunsuan province),” Ando said.

The Malaysian-led IMT had been in Mindanao since 2004. It was made up of 41 Malaysian Armed Forces and Royal Malaysian Police officers, supported by 10 army officers from Brunei, five from Libya and the team has been expanded to have personnel from Canada and Japan.

In May, Malaysia also pulled out a team of truce observers in Mindanao.

Ando said the Brunei contingent would remain in Mindanao. He said the pull out of the peacekeepers will have no significant effect on the current situation in Mindanao.

But the MILF said those from Libya, Japan and Canada would report to their embassies in Manila. “They will report to their respective embassies in Manila and we hope the IMT would be reactivated again to monitor the cease-fire between the MILF and the Philippines government,” said Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader.

“We still have a cease-fire agreement with the MILF. The truce is still in effect, although, sporadic clashes continue in some areas because of our operation against rogue MILF members behind the August attacks in Mindanao,” he said.

Malaysia said it is prepared to consider future participation in the IMT if there is progress in the peace process and a formal request is made by both the peace panels.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim said they suspended participation in the IMT after its mandate expired Sunday.
“Malaysia remains supportive of the peace process and hope that the two sides opt for dialogue and negotiations in bringing about a peaceful solution in Mindanao,” Rais said.

Fighting between security and rebel forces was also reported in Basilan island, south of Zamboanga City. Clashes broke out Friday and that one civilian was killed in the fighting in the towns of Al-Barka and Tipo-Tipo, both strongholds of the MILF in Basilan island.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks in 2001 with the MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for self-determination in Mindanao, but despite the cease-fire accord, hostilities still continue with both sides accusing each other of violating the fragile truce. (With a report from Mark Navales)

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