Malaysia to pull out of peacekeeping mission in Philippines

Malaysia said Thursday it was withdrawing its troops from an international peacekeeping mission in the troubled southern Philippines amid stalled peace talks between the Philippine government and Muslim separatist rebels, reported dpa.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim said Malaysia's troops were pulling out of the southern region of Mindanao as scheduled on November 30.

He said Malaysia, which has led the international monitoring team (IMT) in Mindanao since 2004, would consider rejoining the mission if the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) make progress in peace negotiations.

"Malaysia remains supportive of the peace process and hopes that both sides opt for dialogue and negotiations in bringing about a peaceful solution in Mindanao," he said in a statement.

"Malaysia is prepared to consider its future participation in the IMT, when there is progress in the peace process and a formal request is made by both the peace panels of the government of the Philippine and the MILF," he added.

The 30-member IMT, which also includes Brunei, Libya and Japan, has helped implement a five-year ceasefire between the Philippine government and the MILF.

The team was originally scheduled to leave Mindanao in August but its mission was extended until November 30 on appeal of the Philippine government and the MILF.

On Wednesday, presidential peace adviser Hermogenes Esperon called for the continued stay of the IMT in Mindanao to ensure that recent hostilities between the military and the MILF do not escalate further.

Fighting has been on and off between the military and the MILF rebels since August when the guerrillas launched a series of deadly attacks in Mindanao.

The MILF attacks occurred after the Supreme Court stopped the signing of a land deal that would have expanded an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao.

More than 200 people, including civilians, were killed in the MILF attacks and subsequent clashes with the military. At the height of the fighting, more than 500,000 people were forced to flee their homes in fear of being caught in the crossfire.

Due to the hostilities, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dissolved the government peace panel negotiating with the MILF and ordered a review of the peace talks with the rebel group.

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