Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 17:00 | SYDNEY
Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 17:00 | SYDNEY

Mindanao: Has peace had its chance?


Malcolm Cook

7 May 2008 09:35

Today, there will be an important high-level meeting in Asia of great interest to Australia. No, it is not the meeting between Hu Jintao and Fukuda Yasuo but that between the new Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim and the Philippine Secretary for Foreign Affairs Alberto Romulo. This meeting is important because just as Australia is increasing its support for the peace process in Mindanao between Manila and the MILF, Malaysia may be giving up in frustration.

Malaysia has provided the leadership and the bulk of the 50- International Monitoring Team first established in 2004. Yet, Malaysia has announced plans to pull out after the end of its present rotation in September, and there is no willing candidate to pick up the pieces. This international monitoring team has played a crucial role in intervening in local disputes and clashes between the MILF and government troops, and preventing them from escalating into larger and peace process-threatening conflicts. The team has gained acceptance by all sides in the conflict.

While Malaysia’s on-the-ground contribution in Mindanao and its hosting of talks between the government and the MILF have helped the peace process continue, it has not helped it reach a political solution. Yet, if Malaysia does pull out, this may threaten its role as official mediator and may help localized Mindanao disputes escalate into major conflicts. Mindanao has seen three peace processes over the last three decades, without a sustainable political solution being arrived at. If Malaysia does pull out then this present one, which started in 1997, may also peter out just when Australia (along with Japan, Sweden and the UK) are getting more involved.

In 2006, Kit Collier and I wrote a Lowy Institute paper on Mindanao peace process called Mindanao: A Gamble worth Taking. The gamble may become a bit tougher if today's meeting fails to persuade Malaysia to stay.