Japan extends duty in international truce monitor

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/07 December) — The Japanese government will continue with its role in the International Monitoring Team (IMT) deployed in Mindanao, its embassy today said in a statement.

“The Government of Japan has decided to extend the tour of duty of Japan’s IMT contingent in response to the request of the Philippine Government for the IMT to stay for another three months from December 9, 2010,” the Japanese embassy said.

Japan joined the IMT as the first non-Muslim country, in October 2006.

Since then, Japan has been dispatching two experts on reconstruction and development of Mindanao as part of the socio-economic component of the IMT.

In addition to the IMT, Japan has actively contributed to the peace process and development in Mindanao by participating in the International Contact Group as well as by launching the J-BIRD or Japan Bangsamoro Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development since December 2006 in order to enable the people and the communities in the conflict-affected area to enjoy the “dividends of peace”

Under the J-BIRD, Japan has implemented Official Development Assistance projects, amounting to approximately 11.23 Billion Yen (5.92 Billion Pesos), through various schemes such as grant aid, technical cooperation, loan aid, and the Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects (GGP).

As for the GGP under the J-BIRD, Japan has implemented 40 projects, amounting to approximately 313 Million Yen (160.73 Million Pesos).

The projects include construction or rehabilitation of schools, training centers, water supply systems, health centers, and provision of post-harvest facilities and equipment.

The Malaysian-led IMT has become a significant mechanism in the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The deployment of the IMT in Mindanao has practically reduced fighting between the MILF and Armed Forces of the Philippines.

From January to October this year, the IMT has recorded only three armed encounters, a far cry from 110 for the same period in 2009,” the MILF has said.

Mario Victor F. Leonen, government peace panel chair in talks with the Moro rebels, earlier this month went to Malaysia, also the third party facilitator in the talks, to hand over a letter requesting the extension of the duty of the IMT.

He also coursed to Malaysia the government’s intention to hold exploratory talks with the MILF peace panel to discuss urgent matters for the possible resumption of peace talks.

But according to the December 5 headline story in its website, www.luwaran.com,  MILF Central Committee Information Chief and peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal explained that the IMT stay up to February 28, 2011 is “not an extension but a more pragmatic if not the correct reckoning for the one-year mandate given to the IMT by the Parties.”

“Unlike previous teams, IMT-5’s mandate was signed on December 9, 2009, but they only arrived in Mindanao particularly at their headquarters in Cotabato City on February 28,
2010; so this is a unique case, where no precedent in the past will be cited to rule on it. If we recall, the IMT-1 was from October 10, 2004 to September 10, 2005; IMT-2 from September 11, 2005 to September 8, 2006; IMT-3 from September 9, 2006 to September 3, 2007;  IMT-4 from September 4, 2007 to 30 November 2008, inclusive of the extension agreed by the Parties in an executive meeting. All of the batches practically came on time; and (2) this stay should not be interpreted as annulling, nullifying, or invalidating previous or established procedure agreed by the Parties that mandate of the IMT can only be granted, renewed, or extended by the GRP and MILF during face-to-face negotiation, and with the presence of the third party facilitator,” he wrote.

Formal peace talks between the government and Moro rebels have not resumed under the new administration.

President Benigno S. Aquino III earlier said that peace negotiations would resume after Ramadan, which ended in September. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)