Malaysia to send home its troops from Mindanao starting May

Najib said 21 peacekeepers would return to Malaysia initially.  

Twenty one, however, constitutes half of Malaysia’s military contingent in Mindanao.

At present, there are 41 Malaysian soldiers in the 57-member International Monitoring Team (IMT),  10 from Brunei, five from Libya and a lone Japanese development expert.
Malaysia heads the peacekeeping force.

Since it deployed the first batch to Mindanao in 2004, the IMT has been credited for effectively helping reduce the skirmishes and violations of the ceasefire agreement.

The Philippine government and MILF started their peace talks in 1997, under the Ramos administration.

Malaysia has been facilitating the talks since Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assumed the presidency from deposed President Joseph Estrada in January 2001. But the peace negotiations have been stalled repeatedly – first in 2003 when the government launched military operations against the MILF in the Pikit-Pagalungan area. The talks resumed in March 2003 but ended in an impasse in September 2006. Eleven months later, in October 2007, the impasse was finally broken but just as both panels were supposed to finalize the draft agreement on ancestral domain in December 2007, the MILF opted against meeting the government peace panel, claiming the latter veered away from the consensus points in the draft it presented.

On Thursday morning,  Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said he was “surprised” by the statement of  Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim last Monday that the Malaysian contingent of the IMT will pull out when its tour of duty in Mindanao expires by September.

The tour of duty of  the IMT-4 or the fourth batch of IMT personnel, officially ends on August 31 this year.

Dureza told MindaNews shortly before noon Thursday that he and National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez paid a courtesy call last week on Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, also Defense Minister, and the latter said nothing about the IMT’s pullout.

He told MindaNews before noon Thursday that they have not received an official statement on the matter of pull-out, “just news reports.”

Bernama.com  late Thursday quoted Najib as saying he was coming to Mindanao to notify the Philippine government about the withdrawal.

As has been practiced since 2004, preparations for the change in personnel of the IMT begin around May and June and a gradual changeover of IMT personnel is made in  July so that by end of August, only the head of mission, say the present IMT-4 Head of Mission, is left to do exit calls and to introduce the incoming Head Of Mission for IMT-5, if  there will be an IMT-5  at all, given Najib’s pronouncement that Malaysia “can’t be there (Mindanao) forever.”

Under the Terms of Reference of the IMT, Malaysia can cease or suspend the  performance of their functions with due notice to the Philippine government and the MILF peace panels “in the event that the field situation becomes too dangerous and life-threatening to its members” or  “when either the GRP or MILF fails to fulfill their commitments and responsibilities to the peace process.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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