Malaysia’s PM Urges Mindanao Rebels to Reject Radicalism, Embrace Peace

BenarNews Staff
160226-MY-Manila-1000 Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (left) shakes hands with Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader Murad Ebrahim (center) and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak during peace negotiations in Manila, Oct. 15, 2012.

Malaysian Prime Najib Razak, who has been mediating talks aimed at ending a long-running insurgency in the southern Philippines, met with a top rebel leader this week to express his commitment to peace efforts despite a recent setback and an upcoming leadership change in Manila.

Najib, who met with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim on Thursday, said he remained optimistic about the peace process.

“It is my personal wish to see lasting peace prevail. I envision the Philippines-MILF peace process as a model for resolving long-standing conflicts,” Najib said in a statement published by the Malay Mail on Friday. The prime minister did not say where the meeting occurred, according to Malaysia’s state-run Bernama news agency.

Najib has served as a facilitator for talks between the government of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Ebrahim’s MILF organization. Malaysia has hosted peace talks and the prime minister traveled to Manila in 2014 to witness the signing of Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) peace agreement.

Earlier this month, however, the Philippine congress adjourned without passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that would develop an autonomous region for Muslims on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines, where they make up the religious majority.

Passage is required for portions of the CAB, including the decommissioning of MILF weapons and combatants, to take effect.

Media reported that the lawmakers failed to move the bill because of indignation over 44 police commandos who were killed in January 2015 in fighting involving MILF guerrillas.

Days after congress finished its session, Aquino’s government and Ebrahim’s organization agreed to add a year to their ceasefire, extending it to March 31, 2017.

“I convinced … Ebrahim that despite the current setback, the MILF must remain faithful to the peace process since it is a practical choice to resolve the Bangsamoro issue. I also intimated to him that the process has been very successful in delivering relative peace and stability in the southern Philippines thus far,” Najib said.

“Reverting to armed struggle is definitely not an option and bloodshed must be avoided at all costs,” he added.

More than 120,000 people have died during more than four decades of conflict in the southern Philippines, according to reports.

The Malaysian leader said he reached an understanding with Ebrahim that the MILF should preserve the CAB, calling it the most significant gain of the peace process. “Ebrahim has pledged his utmost commitment to sustain peace and its dividends.”

Najib reiterated that the Malaysian government was willing to work with the next president of the Philippines. Aquino cannot run for another term. His successor will be elected in May.

Philippines military battles militants

While Najib and Ebrahim were meeting, Philippine security forces continued to battle Islamic militants in the southern Philippines. The militants are followers of Indonesian Ustadz Sanusi, a Jemaah Islamiyah member who was killed in the Philippines in 2012, Agence France-Presse reported.

Military officials told AFP that MILF members did not participate in the current fighting, which has displaced more than 20,000 people. Three soldiers and three militants have been confirmed killed during a week of fighting, but military officials claim that another 58 combatants were killed as well, AFP reported.

Reuters reported separately that as many as 42 Muslim rebels “claiming links with the Islamic State” extremist group were killed during five days of fighting, in which Philippine government forces captured their stronghold.

Najib said he encouraged Ebrahim to reach out to other groups to foster unity in the southern Philippines and to ensure that those groups are included in the peace process.

“I call upon all groups in Mindanao to reject radicalization and extremism. As Muslims, we must uphold and implement wasatiyyah, which brings forth a moderate, just and balanced way of life,” Najib said.

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