'Malaysia won't abandon Muslim peace process in Philippine'

Malaysia said on Thursday it will continue brokering peace negotiations between Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

'Malaysia won't abandon Muslim peace process in Philippine'

"We are not abandoning the peace process. We have provided the platform for the peaceful process to continue, and we are looking into maybe a new format as to hasten the peace process," General Abdul Aziz, head of the Malaysian defence forces, told reporters after talks with senior Philippine generals in Manila.

Unarmed Malaysian peacekeepers have been posted in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao since 2004 to help bring an end to nearly 40 years of battle.

Last week, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said it would not extend the mission of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) when it expires later this year because the peace process was not moving fast enough.

"If one party is not making the effort, we will have to end the mission," Yatim was quoted as saying by Malaysia's national news agency Bernama on April 23. Another senior official said the withdrawal would start on May 10 and be completed by the end of August.

About 20 of 41 unarmed Malaysian troops are due to return to Malaysia on May 10 when their one-year tour ends.

Philippine government officials and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest Muslim group, have expressed concern that conflict could break out once the Malaysians withdraw.

The most recent round of peace talks, brokered by Malaysia from 2001, has been stalled since December 2007, when the MILF accused the government of changing a number points in a proposed agreement on a Muslim homeland in the south.

Apart from providing the venue for peace talks, Malaysia's leadership of the 60-member peace monitoring team has helped reduce tension between security forces and Muslim insurgents.

From a high of nearly 700 incidents of ceasefire violations in 2002, Aziz said the IMT was instrumental in bringing down the number of violent incidents to about a dozen from 2005 to the present.

"They have been enjoying a peaceful situation in the last two years and I'm sure they wouldn't like to go back to the old days when they were fighting," Aziz said. "We are confident that the situation will continue to improve."

From Manila, Aziz was due to visit an IMT position in Davao City before holding talks with MILF leaders at the base in Shariff Kabunsuan province on Mindanao island on May 3.

Reuters

Last Mod: 01 Mayıs 2008, 16:08
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