COTABATO CITY, Philippines–The head of the new contingent of Malaysian peace monitors in Mindanao is confident that the Sabah conflict will not affect peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, saying the talks and the standoff were unrelated.
“I think these two are not related. Sabah is a separate matter. And I don’t think that can affect the peace talks that are going on between the MILF and the government of the Philippines,” said Major General Dato Fadzil Bin Mokhtar of the Malaysian Army, the IMT’s 8th mission head here.
Fadzil just started his yearlong tour of duty at the IMT on Mar. 12.
“My concern is the peace process and I don’t think that incident, which is independent of the peace process, will affect. Neither party has associated itself with the Sabah conflict. These two parties are talking and negotiating about the annexes. That’s why I’m saying Sabah is a separate matter,” he reiterated.
He expressed confidence in his group’s security while in the Philippines, citing his trust in the Philippine government.
“I have stated before that we have complete trust in the government of the Philippines and MILF. Government is responsible for providing us with security and we have full confidence in the ability of the government forces to protect us,” Fadzil said.
The official said communities on the ground were upbeat over the progress of the talks and had “high expectations” on the negotiations. For one, he said there were no reports of ceasefire violations between the two parties in all of last year.
Amid the optimism, Fadzil reiterated concerns of the IMT on incidents of rido, recurrent conflict between feuding clans.
“An example is when two parties go into a feud. It can escalate if they cannot control themselves. If the feud continues, you are forcing government to come in. If government comes in, the government could be confronting its partner,” said Fadzil.
But he said there has been no recorded incident of rido (clan war) turning into a ceasefire violation.
“It has not gone that far anyway. But we are conscious of this. And if it happens, we should be appealing to the parties. That’s our fear only. It’s better to be cautious,” said Fadzil.