Muslim women prepare to pray in southern Philippines. Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, is worried over the stalled negotiations. Manila reneged on its earlier agreement over the issue an MILF demand of Muslim ancestral domain. (Mindanao Examiner Photo/Mark Navales)
COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 28, 2007) - The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), fears that the pull out of international truce observers would have an effect on the peace process in Mindanao.
The Malaysia-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) has threatened to pull out if there is no progress in the seven-year old peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.
Manila is currently negotiating peace with MILF, but talks were stalled since last year after both sides failed to agree on the issue of Muslim ancestral domain.
Lawyer Datu Michael Mastura, a member of the MILF peace panel, said the talks would be affected should the IMT pulls out this year.
“If the MILF is threatened, then the GRP should be threatened more. We need a third party as facilitator in negotiation. The element of violation is worked by the IMT, as a result of the CCCH (Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities). We have to push them to the truth… MILF is rebel; the pull out of IMT should threaten the GRP more,” Mastura said at a recent peace forum in Cotabato City.
Speaking before representatives of non-government and peoples’ organizations at the forum, Mastura responded to reports that the stalled peace process could be more imperiled once the IMT pulls out of Mindanao or Malaysia stops mediating in the negotiations.
The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its contingent from the IMT in Mindanao. Since the IMT arrived in 2004, armed conflict between government and rebel forces significantly decreased, observers said.
Maj. Gen. Datuk Mat Yassin bin Mat Daud, head of the Malaysian contingent, said they would return home by August unless the stalled peace talks between the Philippine government and MILF resumes.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia wanted progress in the peace process, but Malaysia’s involvement in the mission to monitor the armed conflict in Mindanao might be extended but not indefinitely. Members of the Malaysian Defense Forces had been in Mindanao since 2004 as part of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).
The monitoring team is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Canada and Japan have also members on the team.
“The deployment of an IMT in Mindanao is authorized under the provision of Chapter 8 of the United Nations Charter which allows peace settlement to be managed under a regional arrangement and upon the invitation of the host government.”
“In this mission, the Malaysian peacekeepers form as a major contingent in the IMT together with other participants from Brunei and Libya. The IMT plays a critical role in supporting the current GRP-MILF peace negotiations and in continuing the momentum for the resolution of the conflict in Mindanao,” said Ayesah Abubakar, the coordinator of the Mindanao Peace Program at the Research and Education for Peace of the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, Malaysia.
“Malaysia has contributed immensely to our peace efforts and we are confident it will continue to be with us and other nations in our peace and development work,” said Secretary Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process.
Talks between the government and the MILF hit a snag in December over disagreements on the coverage of ancestral domain and subjecting it to constitutional process.
Dureza assessed the impasse as “among the most serious to stall the rocky talks, a big hump” upon which the GRP has no “magic formula” while “looking for a way out”.
The MILF negotiating panel refused to meet its government counterpart during the 15th exploratory talks last December 15-17 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia because the GRP draft of a proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain supposedly did not contain certain consensus points earlier agreed by the two parties.
The government negotiating panel recently inserted a provision which states that the implementation of the agreement will have to follow “constitutional process.” The setting up of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) was agreed upon by government and MILF negotiators during exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur last year.
This was aggravated by statements from some of the president’s key officials threatening the MILF with sanctions.
Secretary Ronaldo Puno was quoted by the Philippine media saying the government should not give in to the MILF’s demand for a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) without a plebiscite, while Armed Forces deputy chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Romero stated that peace talks will not resume unless the rebels lay down their weapons.
Negotiations between the two parties progressed because of mutual agreement that government should not refer to Constitution and the MILF would not demand independence.
Foreign observers from the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and donor community have expressed concern on the instability in the peace process.
Various groups described the present setback in the peace talks as the most serious impasse to stall the peace talks since negotiations started in 1997. Thousands of people have marched in the cities of Cotabato, Marawi, General Santos and Iligan the past weeks to press the government and the MILF to resume their talks and eventually to sign a peace accord.
Rallies are also to be launched in Basilan, Pagadian, Zamboanga and Sulu these coming months, organizers said.
Talks between the government and the MILF started in 1996 but it was in 2001 when the Malaysian government intervened as their official facilitator and host to the negotiations.
Some of the significant agreements facilitated by Malaysia were the Agreement on Peace between GRP and the MILF of June 22, 2001 (Tripoli Agreement), the Implementing Guidelines on the Security Aspect of August 7, 2001, and the Implementing Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Aspect of May 7, 2002.
“The IMT is not only tasked to monitor the upholding of a cease fire from both camps but is also mandated to monitor the implementation of the above signed agreements and ensure that the peace process progress to the stage of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development of the conflict affected areas. These two conditions are equally important for confidence building measures as the peace talks are being pursued and a final peace agreement is yet to be signed,” Abubakar said.
Abubakar said that the IMT operations are carried out according to the following roles and responsibilities: “To observe and monitor the implementation of cessation of hostilities, as well as the socioeconomic development of the agreements. This includes receiving reports from the joint CCCH, LMT (Local Monitoring Team), Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), and other stakeholders.”
“Also, the IMT should assess and determine the validity of specific reports, protests or complaints of cease fire violations. These alleged violations and any actions taken should be coordinated with the Joint CCCH and LMT. Lastly, the IMT should determine if a particular report, protest or complaint has been acted upon substantially and satisfactorily at the level of the Joint CCCH or LMT, or whether there is a need for further verification investigation.”
And “to conduct field verification and validate any reported violation; to coordinate closely with the Joint CCCH and LMT on the conduct of the field verification and validation of the reported violation; to report to the GRP-MILF Peace Panels its findings and assessment of the reported violation; and to ensure that all reports are classified and treated accordingly.” (Norodin Makalay)