Pullout by IMT, Malaysia unfavorable to gov’t – Mastura

Speaking before non-government and people’s organizations in a peace forum here over the weekend, lawyer Michael Mastura also said that the stalled peace process could be more imperiled if Malaysia withdraws as third-party mediator in the negotiation.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt anew in Mindanao if the peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its contingent from the IMT.

Since the IMT’s arrival in 2004, encounters between government and rebel forces have significantly decreased.

Maj. Gen. Datuk Mat Yassin bin Mat Daud, head of the Malaysian contingent, said they would return home by August unless peace talks between the Philippine government and MILF resume.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia wanted progress in the peace process, adding Malaysia’s involvement in the mission to monitor the ceasefire might be extended but not indefinitely. Members of the Malaysian Defense Forces had been in Mindanao since 2004 as part of the IMT.

The IMT counts 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department, as well as 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 others from Libya. Canada and Japan also have members in the team, although they are a non-military contingent.

“The deployment of an IMT in Mindanao is authorized under the provision of Chapter 8 of the United Nations Charter which allows peace settlement to be managed under a regional arrangement and upon the invitation of the host government. In this mission, the Malaysian peacekeepers form as a major contingent in the IMT together with other participants from Brunei and Libya. The IMT plays a critical role in supporting the current GRP-MILF peace negotiations and in continuing the momentum for the resolution of the conflict in Mindanao,” said Ayesah Abubakar, coordinator of the Mindanao Peace Program at the Research and Education for Peace of the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, Malaysia.

“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,” said Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process.

Talks between the government and the MILF hit a snag last December over disagreements on the coverage of ancestral domain and the insistence of the government to discuss it within the framework of the constitution.

Dureza assessed the impasse as “among the most serious to stall the rocky talks, a big hump” upon which the GRP has no “magic formula” while “looking for a way out”.

The MILF panel refused to meet its government counterpart during the 15th exploratory talks last December 15-17 in Kuala Lumpur because the GRP draft of a proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain supposedly did not contain certain consensus points earlier agreed upon by the two parties.

The government panel recently inserted a provision which states that the implementation of the agreement will have to follow “constitutional process.”

This was aggravated by statements from some of the president’s key officials threatening the MILF with sanctions. Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said government should not give in to the MILF’s demand for a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) without a plebiscite, while AFP Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Antonio Romero stated that peace talks should only continue after the MILF has been disarmed.

The setting up of a BJE was agreed upon during exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur several years ago.

Negotiations between the two parties progressed after the government agreed not to use the constitution as a framework and the MILF consented to drop its demand for independence.

Observers from the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and donor community have expressed concern on the uncertainty of the peace process.

Various groups described the present setback in the peace talks as the most serious since negotiations started in 1997.

Thousands of people marched in the cities of Cotabato, Marawi, General Santos and Iligan this month to press the government and the MILF to resume the talks and sign a peace accord.

Peace rallies will be held in Basilan, Pagadian, Zamboanga and Sulu in the coming months, organizers said.

Talks between the government and the MILF started in 1997, but it was only in 2001, under the Arroyo administration, when the Malaysian government became host and facilitator.

Some of the significant agreements facilitated by Malaysia were the Agreement on Peace between GRP and the MILF of June 22, 2001, the Implementing Guidelines on the Security Aspect of August 7, 2001, and the Implementing Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Aspect of May 7, 2002.

“The IMT is not only tasked to monitor the upholding of a cease fire from both camps but is also mandated to monitor the implementation of the above signed agreements and ensure that the peace process progress to the stage of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development of the conflict affected areas. These two conditions are equally important for confidence building measures as the peace talks are being pursued and a final peace agreement is yet to be signed,” Abubakar said.

She said IMT carries out the following roles and responsibilities:

1.) To observe and monitor the implementation of cessation of hostilities, as well as the socioeconomic development of the agreements. This includes receiving reports from the joint CCCH, LMT (Local Monitoring Team), Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), and other stakeholders. Also, the IMT should assess and determine the validity of specific reports, protests or complaints of cease fire violations. These alleged violations and any actions taken should be coordinated with the Joint CCCH and LMT. Lastly, the IMT should determine if a particular report, protest or complaint has been acted upon substantially and satisfactorily at the level of the Joint CCCH or LMT, or whether there is a need for further verification investigation;

2.) To conduct field verification and validate any reported violation;

3.) To coordinate closely with the Joint CCCH and LMT on the conduct of the field verification and validation of the reported violation;
   
4.) To report to the GRP-MILF Peace Panels its findings and assessment of the reported violation; and
   
5.) To ensure that all reports are classified and treated accordingly. (Norodin M. Makalay/MindaNews)

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