Civilians at high risk with IMT pull-out, peace groups say

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, told a press conference early Wednesday afternoon, April 30, that both parties should request the Malaysian government, head of the IMT, to extend the tour of duty of the international monitoring body to prevent "big consequences" of the withdrawal.

The tour of duty of the 57-member IMT, 41 of them Malaysians, is on August 31 this year.

"The pullout of the IMT led by the Government of Malaysia will clearly have dire consequences on the lives of people in the conflict-affected areas, the MPC said in a statement insisting the IMT's presence had "dramatically improved" the lives of civilians.

The group said the track record of the IMT in the last four years will show that it is indispensable to the mechanism for cessation of hostilities and to the peace process.

"Before the IMT arrived, there were two all out wars in 2000 and 2003, which displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians. Before that, there were major fighting in Camps Omar and Raja Muda just to name two. After the IMT arrived, there were no major fighting let along all out war," the statement said.

"We already had the Joint CCCH and the local monitoring teams before, but war still broke," she said.

The MPC and the community-based Bantay Ceasefire (Ceasefire Watch) called on both parties to convince the IMT to stay, 10 days ahead of the reported pull out of a batch of Malaysian members of the monitoring team on May 10.

Bantay Ceasefire coordinator Rexall Kaalib said it seems Malacañang has forgotten its policy to uphold the primacy of the peace process by not requesting an extension.

"We cannot really say they betrayed, but they might have forgotten about the policy," he told a press conference the group organized.

The groups have also called for the GRP and the MILF to resume formal talks and sign the Memorandum of Agreement on ancestral domain based on the "agreed consensus points".

 

They also called for the postponement of the ARMM elections to allow sufficient time for the two panels to talk peace and complete the ongoing tripartite review of the 1996 peace agreement.

"We believe that these processes should not be overtaken by the ARMM election," the statement said.

The group also appealed to President Arroyo (see related story), who was in town to attend a meeting of the Bishops Ulama Conference, to push for the signing of the peace agreement as a symbol of her lasting legacy for the people of Mindanao.

The group proceeded to Marco Polo where the meeting was held to deliver their message to the President.

One of the Bantay Ceasefire volunteers was able to hand the President with a copy of their prepared statements as she was escorted out of the hotel.

The peace groups were joined by people's organizations based in communities where there are ceasefire monitors.

When the President left, they continued their picket shortly along Roxas Street and proceeded to the Malaysian and Japanese consulates for similar pickets (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)

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