Malaysian peace monitors in PH despite standoff
DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao – Despite tensions stemming from the month-long Sabah standoff, Malaysia sent a new set of troops to Mindanao as peace monitors.
The troops arrived over the weekend to replace the outgoing batch of peace monitors whose one-year tour of duty under the International Monitoring Team (IMT) batch 7 expired.
Malaysia is brokering a peace deal with the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The peace process is now in the fine-tuning phase, with the recent signing of one of the annexes on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
Four of the 19 contingents are from the combined Royal Army of Malaysia, Royal Navy, Royal Police and civilian components. They arrived as part of the advanced party of the Malaysian monitors.
IMT batch 8 headed by Maj Gen Dato Fadzil Bin Mokhtar received a welcome during a farewell dinner for IMT batch 7.
Mokhtar addressed questions on whether or not the Sabah standoff will affect his team’s mission.
“I don’t think so. We arrived in wrong timing [but] we have no apprehension at all [that] this new tour of duty will be tarnished in relation to the Sabah issue. We are clear on our mission here: to continue to monitor the ceasefire,” said Mokhtar.
Outgoing head-of-mission of IMT batch 7, MGen Dato Abdul Rahim Bin Mohd Yusuff echoed the view.
“IMT is concerned only [with] the directive by the Philippine government and the MILF to monitor the ceasefire,” Yusuff said.
The Malaysian troops arrived amid criticism from some sectors of Philippine society about the crackdown on Filipinos in Sabah. Refugees from Sabah have reported abuses and atrocities supposedly committed by Malaysian security forces.
A total of 52 militants and 8 Malaysian police officers have been shot dead and 85 people have been arrested for possible links to the followers of the Sultanate of Sulu.
The standoff began exactly one month ago when the followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III crossed over to Sabah to assert their historical claim over the territory.
Malaysian troops get bronze medals
Despite the conflict, the departing IMT batch 7 received bronze cross medals from the Philippine Army’s 6th Division. The two groups worked together for peace efforts in the past year.
Col Dickson Hermoso, Information chief of the 6th Division, said security was beefed up in anticipation of possible retaliation on the Malaysian officers by sympathizers of the Sultanate of Sulu.
“There is always a risk just like what happened to our UN Filipino contingents in Golan Heights. These are security persons and there is always a risk”, Hermoso said.
The IMT was established in 2004 to monitor the implementation of the Agreement on Peace between the Philippine government and the MILF.
Its task is to observe the implementation of cessation of hostilities signed by the two parties, to conduct field verification on reported violations, and to coordinate closely with the Joint GPH-MILF-Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities and the local monitoring teams. – with a report from Ferdinandh Cabrera / Rappler.com.