(UPDATE) Malaysian peacekeepers pull out of Mindanao

Posted at 11/30/2008 4:25 PM | Updated as of 11/30/2008 6:28 PM
Malaysia's First Admiral Pahlawan Amzah bin Sulaiman 

COTABATO - The last batch of Malaysian peacekeepers flew out of the southern Philippines Sunday, throwing into doubt prospects of an immediate resumption of peace talks between Manila and Muslim rebels.

The 12 International Monitoring Team (IMT) members boarded a military cargo plane for Kuala Lumpur from the southern island of Mindanao. Twenty-one Malaysian soldiers and policemen had left in May.

"Its nice to go home but leaving behind friends is hard. We hope that we can come back again in a different capacity," said mission head First Admiral Pahlawan Amzah bin Sulaiman before departing.

"I hope that the Philippine government and MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) can resume the peace talks soon," he added.

The Malaysians have made up the bulk of the small international monitoring team which has overseen a 2003 ceasefire between the Philippine government and the separatist MILF.

The remaining Malaysian contingent left Mindanao, Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. on board a C130 military aircraft to Malaysia.

The team has been in Mindanao for 15 months and they have contributed in monitoring the implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF.

IMT head of mission Malaysia’s Sulaiman said there was no instruction from his government on an extension of their tour of duty in Mindanao.

Mission ceased
Sulaiman further said that the IMT already ceases to exist as of Sunday.

"Fundamentally there are no longer IMT members because we cease our mission as of today. They will not be called IMT members,” said Sulaiman.

The IMT members from Brunei, Japan and Libya are expected to stay in the country as they await their respective pull-out orders from their governments.

Sulaiman told ABS-CBN News that he had mixed feelings after his tour of duty as peacekeeper in Mindanao.

“There is mixed feelings… We find it hard to leave... The situation is still uncertain.. We would like to see mission is successful but because of circumstances we are unable to make it really happen the way we would want it to be,” said the Malaysian first admiral.

He said however that he is glad that they have “contributed to certain amount of peace” especially with “helping people on the ground.”

Sulaiman said they are willing to come back and see how the on going conflict will be resolved.

Sulaiman, before leaving said: “We like to come back here to see a more peaceful and prosperous Mindanao... Maraming salamat po!”

Lack of progress in talks
Malaysia has said it was pulling out its troops due to a lack of progress in the peace talks, which have been suspended since President Arroyo ordered a massive assault on the rebels in August.

A fresh breakdown in talks came after MILF fighters staged a series of coordinated, deadly attacks across several towns and provinces on Mindanao island that left hundreds of thousands displaced and dozens dead.

The attacks came shortly after the Supreme Court issued an injunction against a proposed deal that would have given the rebels control over 700 towns and territories across Mindanao. It subsequently ruled the deal was unconstitutional.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), which tracks conflicts worldwide, has said that while the fighting will not lead to an all-out war covering the whole of Mindanao, it does not see both sides returning to the table for talks anytime soon. With reports from Halima Satol, ABS-CBN News Central Mindanao and Agence France-Presse