As a new batch of Malaysian peace monitors prepare to be deployed to the southern Philippines amid an imperiled peace process between the government and Muslim rebels, they are being warned that they may face their toughest test yet.
Speaking at the sending-off ceremony for the Malaysian members of the new International Monitoring Team-Mindanao 10 (IMT-M10), which will take over from the current team beginning March 14, Chief of Defense Force of the Malaysian Armed Forces General Zulkifeli Mohamad Zin warned that the personnel could face some challenges due to spoilers looking to disrupt the ongoing peace process.
“This is a critical time, as the peace process is nearing its conclusion, there are many detractors who may try to derail and sabotage the peace process,” he said according to the Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times (NST).
As The Diplomat has reported previously, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front reached a peace deal in March last year which signaled a potential end to nearly a half-century of bloody conflict. But just as the current government led by President Benigno Aquino was about to move forward with passing a key enabling law this year, the Philippine national police suffered one of the highest casualties in its history following a major clash in MILF territory. In response, the Philippine legislature has suspended hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and the army is now in the midst of an offensive against an MILF splinter group called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
In his remarks, Zulkifeli reportedly reiterated the fact that there are two circumstances where the IMT can be recalled: first, when either the Philippine government or the MILF stops heeding IMT’s advice; and, second, when the safety and security of IMT members is jeopardized.
“My concern is that, in order to derail this mission, the detractors may try to make the situation unsafe for IMT’s mission, especially in areas like Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, among others,” NST quoted him as saying.
He also suggested that the outcome would depend wholly on the resolve of the government and the MILF to ensure that detractors “are dealt with effectively.”
The IMT-M10 comprises 16 officers and personnel from the armed forces, police and defense and foreign ministries. It will join 20 others from Brunei, Indonesia, Japan and Norway. Malaysia has played an important role in the peace process in the southern Philippines, and it has been involved in the IMT since it was first officially deployed in Mindanao in October 2004.
As I’ve reported earlier, at the regional level Malaysia has also reiterated its desire to move towards establishing an ASEAN peacekeeping force as the chair of the organization in 2015.