Malaysia’s Defense Forces chief to visit Cotabato City May 3; IMT offices closing May 10

General Tan Sri Dato' Sri Abdul Aziz bin Hj Zainal, chief of the  Malaysian Defense Forces and the Malaysian counterpart of Philippine Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, will meet with the MILF at the office of the MILF peace panel in the MILF's Camp Darapanan shortly before noon on Saturday, May 3.

On May 2, the team will visit the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Davao City.

This as the MILF's website, luwaran.com announced that the Malaysian-led IMT will close its team site offices in the cities of Iligan, General Santos, Davao and Zamboanga by May 10, an announcement an IMT official in one of the team sites confirmed but which a government source said should be viewed as "downsizing" or "the Malaysians are consolidating their forces back to Cotabato."

The general's visit comes 10 days since Malaysia's Foreign Minister  Daqtuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim warned Malaysia wouldn't send any more peacekeeper to Mindanao after the present tour of duty expires on August 31, 2008.

But the Malaysian national news agency, Bernama, through its online publication, bernama.com on April 24, reported that Deputy Prime Minister and concurrent Defense Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said General Tan is expected to "convey to the Philippine government about the withdrawal."

Najib told reporters at the 11th Defence Services Asia Exhibition and Conference  that Malaysia will start to withdraw in phases its peacekeeping troops from Mindanao by May, starting with 21 troops. Malaysia has 41 troops in the 57-person IMT, 10 of them from Brunei, five from Libya and the lone non-military member, a development expert from Japan.

"The Defence Forces chief will leave for the Philippines next month to convey to the Philippine government about the withdrawal. A decision has been made on our presence there… we cannot be there forever," bernama.com quoted Najib as saying on April 24.
 
The IMT has been in Mindanao since 2004.

Before Najib, it was Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais who warned on April 21 that Malaysia would no longer send its peacekeeping troops in Mindanao after its tour of duty expires.

On April 24, Rais told reporters before attending a luncheon hosted by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at a hotel in Putrajaya that Malaysia's decision to stop sending Malaysian peacekeepers to Mindanao is "due to the non-progress in peace talks between the Philippines Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front," bernama.com reported

"Principally, we want progress. But we have seen that the progress is almost non-recordable…so, to continue being what we are there, I think, is a question of resource depletion. When there is progress, we should continue (the mission). But you see when there is no progress, we should not extend (our) stay (there)," bernama.com quoted Rais as saying.

The presence of the IMT since 2004 has helped reduce the skirmishes between the warring forces.

MindaNews checked the records of the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (Joint CCCH)  and found that the number of skirmishes has steadily gone down from 698 in 2002 to 569 in 2002, a year of war; to 16 in 2004, the year  the IMT came to Mindanao; to only 8 in 2007.

Within the period, the economy of Mindanao's six regions grew steadily.

The government and MILF peace panels started its peace talks in 2007 but were interrupted twice  by an "all out war" waged by the military against the MILF areas in 2000 under the Estrada administration and in 2003, already under the Arroyo administration which earlier vowed an "all-out peace policy." The 2000 war displaced nearly a million villagers; the war in Buliok in 2003 displaced nearly half a million villagers.

The MILF disbanded its peace panel on August 21, 2000 and created a new one in March 2001 under the then two-month old Arroyo administration.

The progress of the peace talks, given the "all-out peace policy" of Ms Arroyo, was fast, with three formal peace talks between June and October 2001 alone. But in March 2002, shortly after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Pres. Arroyo suspended the formal talks but settled for back-channel negotiations that led to the signing of two important agreements – the May 6, 2002 Joint Communique on the joint action group against criminals and terrorists in so-called MILF-controlled areas and the May 7, 2002 implementing guidelines on the humanitarian, rehabilitation and development aspects of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001.

In 2003, the military launched operations against the MILF on February 11, which happened to be Eid'l Adha or the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice.  A day earlier, then government peace panel chair Jesus Dureza, and his panel, presented their draft final peace agreement with the MILF, to the House Speaker, Senate President and the President herself through the Executive Secretary.

Since the 2003 war, the panels have yet to resume formal talks, although they have been holding exploratory talks since late March 2003.

By early September 2006, the talks ended in an impasse over the territory aspect in the ancestral domain agenda. The impasse was broken only in October 2007 and while both panels were optimistic they would be able to sign before 2007 ended the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain agenda. In December 2007, however,  the MILF refused to meet the government peace panel in Kuala Lumpur, claiming the government's draft agreement on ancestral domain, veered away from the consensus points earlier discussed and agreed upon.

On February 19 to 20  this year, the Malaysian facilitator shuttled between the Philippine government and MILF peace panels to iron out what Iqbal says were "minor and major points."

In a press statement last Sunday, April 27, Dureza, now Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said the Philippine government is "not delaying but doing due diligence in completing the government's final draft of the ancestral domain agreement to ensure that it is implementable and defensible from attacks of unconstitutionality."

"While we understand the apparent impatience of some sectors, the government cannot treat these pending issues in a cavalier manner or with undue haste," Dureza's statement read.
 
Dureza expressed government's  appreciation for Malaysia's help in the peace process and says it "respects and accepts their latest decision.”

"We appreciate the help of the Malaysians in our peace process and we respect and accept their latest decision. We hope that they will continue to support our peace and development efforts," he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

Comments

comments