GRP, MILF extend IMT stay for one more year, expand IMT scope, too

The agreement was made during a “special meeting between representatives” of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the MILF on August 27 in Cyberjaya, Malaysia, after which a joint statement was issued, signed by the peace panel chairs, Sec. Rodolfo Garcia of the GRP and Mohagher Iqbal of the MILF.

The special meeting ended “with both sides expressing a common resolve to move forward, and firming up measures to strengthen the role of the International Monitoring Team.”

The two panels also agreed to request Malaysia, Brunei, Libya and Japan to extend the tour of duty of their respective contingents to the IMT for another 12 months ending August 2008. The tour of duty of the present IMT team from Malaysia ends on Friday, August 31.

“Both sides affirm the substantial contribution of the IMT for almost three years in helping stabilize the ground environment in Mindanao, and in boosting international confidence to the peace process,” the statement said.

To “reinforce” the mandate of the monitoring body, the two panels agreed to adopt the expanded TOR of the IMT which contains, among others, the following substantial amendments: that “the functions of the IMT is expanded to align its role along the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Aspect, and Socio-Economic Assistance;” that “in addition to the previous areas covered under the ceasefire agreements, the IMT area of coverage shall include Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan;” and that “the IMT may undertake advocacy and information activities in support of the ceasefire and other programs, in close coordination with the Peace Panels and the ceasefire committees.”

There was no mention when the two panels will hold formal talks but both panels agreed to “seriously consider in the forthcoming round of talks the request of countries and international institutions that are interested in participating in the IMT, and other support programs of the peace process.”

The next round of talks, however, may likely be held after the month-long Islamic fast, Ramadhan, which begins around September 13.

According to the Terms of Reference (TOR) signed September 4, 2004, the IMT’s main task is to monitor the implementation of the Agreement on Peace of June 2001 between the Philippine government and the MILF and the August 7, 2001  implementing guidelines on the Security Aspect and May 7, 2002 implementing guidelines on the Humanitarian and Development Aspects.

The IMT comprises Malaysia, Libya, Brunei and recently Japan although Japan deployed a senior development expert instead of  a military unit. Canada and Sweden had earlier expressed interest to join the IMT.

It is  based in Cotabato City but has, as of August 28, 2007, five mobile teams and offices in the cities of Davao, Cotabato, General Santos, Iligan and Zamboanga.

The IMT conducts field verification, usually with the GRP and MILF teams, to validate reported ceasefire violations and reports to the GRP and MILF peace panels its findings and assessments of reported violations.

The monitoring body, however, was not part of the Joint Fact-Finding mission of the GRP and MILF in the probe of what happened on July 10 in Al-Barka town, Basilan where 14 Marine troopers and an Imam were killed, because Basilan was not included in the Terms of Reference signed September 8, 2004.

The new IMT team after August 31 will be referred to as IMT-4 since this is the fourth batch of IMT personnel assigned here.

The GRP-MILF peace talks ended in an impasse in early September last year over the issue of territory under ancestral domain. A special meeting was held in December last year. The August 27 “special meeting” was the first since the December meeting.

Aside from Garcia and Iqbal, present in the “special meeting” were government peace panel vice chair Rudy Rodil, lawyer Camilo Montesa of the Technical Working Group and Ryan Mark Sullivan, head of secretariat of the government peace panel; and for the MILF, peace panel members Datu Michael Mastura and Maulana Alonto and Mike Pasigan, member of the MILF peace panel secretariat. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews).

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