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Philippines ends stay of foreign peacekeepers in the south

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) – Foreign peacekeepers credited with helping ease years of bloody fighting between government forces and rebels have left the southern Philippines after officials decided to end their presence, but talks are underway to allow their possible return, officials and the rebels said yesterday.

Members of the Malaysia-led International Monitoring Team (IMT), flew out of the southern region of Mindanao on June 30 after their authority to stay as ceasefire monitors, which must be renewed each year, was not extended by the then-outgoing administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

It remains to be seen whether new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr will authorise the return of the peacekeepers. Decades-long extremist and communist insurgencies are among major problems he inherited after taking office on June 30 following a landslide victory.

Deployed in 2004, the IMT initially consisted of armed peacekeeping forces from Malaysia, Brunei and Libya to help monitor the enforcement of a cease-fire agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest rebel group in the south, which signed a Malaysian-brokered peace deal with the government in 2014.

The European Union, Japan, Norway and Indonesia later sent either armed troops or civilian experts to join the IMT, which also helped monitor humanitarian issues and efforts to rehabilitate war-battered communities.

As fighting subsided considerably through the years, the 60-member IMT was gradually reduced.

The last contingent of more than 20 peacekeepers left the south two weeks ago.

Chairperson of Philippine Government Peace Panel Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Chief negotiator for the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Mohagher Iqbal, exchange signed documents as Malaysian facilitator Abdul Ghafar Tengku Mohamed witnesses after the 43rd GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: AP