A Malaysian-led international peace monitoring group has left the southern Philippines after the Rodrigo Duterte administration, which left office last month, decided their presence was no longer needed, officials said Friday.
The peacekeeping force, known as the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and tasked with overseeing a ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and former guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, left the country from Cotabato City in small thrill last month. The monitors have been operating in the southern region of Mindanao for nearly two decades.
Naguib Sinarimbo, a spokesman for the former MILF rebels, confirmed the withdrawal to BenarNews and said the IMT wanted to change some of the terms of their agreement. He did not elaborate.
“While this has not been resolved, they have decided to pull out their contingent. Their authority to stay has also expired, ”Sinarimbo said. He said IMT could operate again in the Philippines under government scrutiny.
The IMT, headed by Maj. Gen. Hamdan Ismail, will officially pull out at the end of June.
In a message before his departure, which was made available to the press on Friday, Ismail said relations between the Philippines and Malaysia have strengthened since IMT remained in Mindanao.
“I wish your dreams and my dreams of achieving lasting peace in this part of the region to be realized in the near future,” Ismail added.
Lt. Col. Aminuddin Ihsan (left), the leader of the Bruneian contingent, speaks at a news conference in Manila on October 20, 2004, after the arrival of a 10-member army group from Brunei to join the larger group of Malaysian peace monitors overseeing the ceasefire between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Sitting next to him was Malaysian Maj. Gen. Zulkifeli bin Mohd Zin, head of the delegation for the International Monitoring team. [Erik de Castro/Reuters]
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a peace agreement with the central government in 2014, ending its long -running separatist insurgency in Mindanao. Malaysia has been involved in peace negotiations, and its participation has grown to include monitoring the interim ceasefire agreement reached by both sides about two decades ago.
Representatives from Libya, Brunei, and Japan were included in the Malaysia -led mission, which also monitored the humanitarian, rehabilitation and development aspects of the peace process. The peacekeeping contingent also ensured the protection of civilians in the areas where the rebels operate.
Brig. Si Gen. Antonio Nafarrete, who led the government’s ceasefire team, expressed the administration’s gratitude for the IMT’s efforts in maintaining peace in Mindanao.
“Thank you very much. We recognize the invaluable contribution of IMT in sustaining the achievements of the Bangsamoro peace process as the team nears the end of their tour of duty,” he said.
What will Mark do?
It is not yet clear whether Duterte’s successor Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will extend it. the IMT tenure in peacekeeping.
Critics say his father and nickname, the longtime dictator of the Philippines, spearheaded widespread military aggression in the south and many people died or disappeared during his tenure from 1965 to 1986.
Former rebels, for one, campaigned against Marcos Jr. Its leader, Murad Ebrahim (whose real name is Ahod Balawag Ebrahim), blamed Marcos ’father and the military under the late dictator of searching Muslim areas and massacring the entire community. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front was formed, in part, to fight alleged atrocities, while also seeking freedom.
The strength of the IMT at one time stood at 60, but this gradually decreased as tension and fighting decreased and peace began to take. In March, the government informed IMT that it would no longer extend the mission.
The head of the ceasefire front, Butch Malang, said the organization remains committed to strengthening the joint peace mechanism.
“We also take this opportunity to further strengthen our common commitment, teamwork, and dedication to work with all our partners for a stronger proactive ceasefire agreement during the post-agreement period of the peace process. between the government and the MILF, ”Malang said.
“The MILF’s adherence to the ceasefire has been a gradual success but has been collectively accomplished due to the strong cooperation and collaboration of the security forces, local governments, and communities on the ground,” he added.
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