After weeks of delay, IMT finally conducts probe in Al-Barka and Payao

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/29 November) – After weeks of delay, the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team  (IMT) will finally conduct this week its probe on last month’s incidents in Al-barka, Basilan and Paoay, Zamboanga Sibugay.

The team will look into the complaints of ceasefire violations filed by both the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Admiral Adib of Malaysia, Deputy Head of Mission of the IMT told MindaNews that the team will begin its probe on November 30 “until we finish.”

The October 18 clash between the military and the MILF left 25 persons dead (19 soldiers, five MILF, one civilian), 19 injured (14 soldiers, three from the MILF, two civilians) and nearly 10,000 villagers displaced while the October 15 to 26 incident in Paoay and four other neighboring towns in Zamboanga Sibugay left four persons dead, eight injured and 19,000 residents displaced.

On November 7, Adib told MindaNews that the IMT,  GPH-MILF Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (JCCCH) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) were meeting on November 9 to finalize the schedule of the joint probe.

The parties met on November 9, 10 and 12 and set up the Joint Independent Fact-Finding Committee (JIFFC). The probe was set for November 15 to 24.

The team was set to leave Cotabato City for Zamboanga City early morning of November 15 but the probe was reset pending verification on interpretations of the IMT mandate from the government and MILF peace panel chairs.

“It is being rescheduled to a more appropriate date,” Maj. Gen. Dato Mahdi Bin Yusof, told MindaNews on November 15.

The Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of both the Philippine government (GPH) and MILF peace panels filed their respective protests over alleged ceasefire violations by the other in the Al-barka tragedy.

Brig. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, chair of the GPH CCCH, filed government’s protest on October 20 while Said Shiek, chair of the MILF CCCH, filed their protest on October 30.

The GPH and MILF peace panels met in an executive session in Kuala Lumpur on November 3, the first since the adjournment of the talks on August 23, agreed to move the peace process forward and to let the ceasefire mechanisms investigate the Al-barka and Payao incidents.

“We agreed that investigations through the ceasefire mechanisms shall continue to be conducted. These include those to be done by the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in coordination with the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (JCCCH) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG). We will await recommendations relating to the review of ceasefire mechanisms that may result from these investigations,” government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said in a press statement.

The MILF in a statement issued by peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, said the two parties agreed “that an investigation be conducted on the Basilan incident particularly the Al Barka incident where at least 19 Army’s Special Forces were slain” and that the parties “tasked the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT), MILF and GPH Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCHs), and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) to carry this out.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)