One more year for the IMT in Mindanao

Malaysian Lt. Col. Abdul Razak Bin Hussein, commander of the IMT in South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos City area, told reporters here on Tuesday afternoon that a new group of 60 peace monitors would be deployed in the island after the present team ends its stint next month.

“Another team from Brunei, Libya and Malaysia will replace us after we pull out on August 23,” he said.

Razak said the extension of the IMT mission in Mindanao is a manifestation of his government's commitment to help resolve the decades-old Moro rebellion in the island.

He said the Malaysian government, which facilitates the ongoing peace negotiations, saw the need to deploy a third party monitor in the area until a final peace agreement is signed by both parties.

Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesman, said the extension of the IMT's mission in Mindanao was recently approved by Malaysia based on requests from both the government and MILF peace panels.

“The continued presence of the IMT here is very important in ensuring stability on the ground while the negotiations are ongoing,” he said.

Kabalu stressed that the IMT's presence in key areas in Mindanao over the last two years prevented the escalation of some local conflicts and strengthened the implementation of the agreement on the cessation of hostilities forged in July 2003 by both parties.

Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, earlier said the presence of the IMT was among the major factors that triggered the significant reduction of the number of armed skirmishes between the Moro rebels and government troops in Mindanao over the last two years.

From 559 cases in 2003, he said the number of armed skirmishes dropped to 15 in 2004 and eventually down to 10 last year.

The IMT was first deployed in Mindanao in October 2004 to monitor the implementation of the bilateral truce and help conduct some capability-building activities in communities affected by the previous conflicts.

Last Monday, Razak's team turned over a school building in barangay Sapu Masla in Malapatan, Sarangani that it helped rehabilitate. The two-room building of Mama Wawa Elementary School was damaged during clashes in the area two years ago.

The team had also facilitated the turnover to the government of several suspected criminals that were captured by the MILF in the area.

The peace monitors presently operate in the provinces of Zamboanga, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and South and North Cotabato.

Aside from Malaysia, the IMT is composed of representatives from Brunei, Bangladesh, and Libya, member-countries of the influential Organization of Islamic Conference.(Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)