Peace groups to Malaysia: stay; armed skirmishes at its lowest due to IMT presence

Records of the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (Joint CCCH) show that the number of skirmishes has steadily gone down from 569 in 2003, a year of war, to 16 in 2004, the year  the IMT came to Mindanao, to only 8 in 2007.

The CCCH recorded 698 armed skirmishes in 2002, 569 in 2003, 16 in 2004, 13 in 2005, 10 in 2006 and only eight in 2007.

On Thursday, the Malaysian national news agency, Bernama, reported that Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced Malaysia would withdraw “in phases” its peacekeeping troops in Mindanao starting May.

“A decision has been made on our presence there (Mindanao)… we cannot be there forever,” Najib told reporters at the 11th Defense Services Asia Exhibition and Conference, bernama.com reported.

Najib said 21 peacekeepers would return to Malaysia initially. That number represents more than half of Malaysia’s 41-man contingent.

Altogether the fourth batch of the IMT or IMT-4 has 57 members: 41 from Malaysia, 10 from Brunei, five from Libya and one from Japan. Except for the latter which sent a development expert, the rest are soldiers.

“It’s a bad signal and we need to appeal to them (Malaysia) to stay. We should also ask the Philippine government to have the political will to solve the Mindanao issue,” Guiamel Alim, executive director of the Kadtuntaya Foundation and head of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS).

“It’s a worrisome development because Malaysia has been playing a very important role in preventing skirmishes between government troops and MILF forces. I hope Malaysia will reconsider its decision for the sake of the peace process sand the peace in general,”  said Fr. Roberto Layson, head of the Inter-Religious Dialogue of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus, called on President Arroyo “to uphold the primacy of the peace process by immediately requesting Malaysia to reconsider its decision and to once and for all schedule the formal resumption of talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.”

MPC also appealed both government and the MILF to “finally sign the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain and for the IMT, we beg you not to abandon the people of Mindanao. The consequences will be unimaginable for ordinary civilians.”

Gus Miclat, executive director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue said the IMT’s presence has been “very instrumental in keeping peace in Mindanao, ergo in the region, too.”

Abhoud Syed Lingga, executive director of the Institute for Bangsamoro Studies, told MindaNews that Malaysia’s decision to pull-out  from the IMT “is an indication of Malaysia’s displeasure over the slow progress in the peace talks. It is a message to the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) to be decisive and stop flipflopping on what were earlier agreed upon by the GRP and MILF.”

“The danger of resumption of hostilities now becomes greater. Experience tells us that without a third party, the MILF and GRP cannot manage conflicts on the ground,” Lingga said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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