KL girds for war in Mindanao
MALAYSIA warned Saturday that war could erupt in Mindanao if the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fails to push through by June, and has begun preparing offshore military bases in the Sulu Sea to handle an influx of refugees if the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) fails to pass.
“If the peace process can’t go through in June then it means war. Twelve years of talks and because of one incident, they will have war,” Malaysia’s Defense Mininster Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein told the Star Online, referring to the Mamasapano incident in which 44 police commandos were killed on Jan. 25.
Hussein said the offshore bases are expected to be fully operational in Sabah waters fronting Sulu province by April, and would be ready to handle hundreds of thousands of refugees trying to escape war.
“If we have a wall of offshore bases, we may have a chance to stop the exodus of people, a major concern for the ministry, Hussein said.
Malaysia had previously set up offshore bases near Sabah to repel fighters loyal to the Sultanate of Sulu, which sought to reassert its claim over Sabah in 2013.
A ranking Army officer in Mindanao said the government is facing several security challenges if the peace talks fail.
For one, he said, the MILF Central Committee only has loose control over its subordinate units.
“There is no contingency plan if peace talks fail and there is a pullout of troops in Central Mindanao, which may cause a security vacuum in some areas,” said Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.
The military recently launched an all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front (BIFF), a splinter group of the MILF, driving some 120,000 people to flee their homes.
In remarks over state-run radio, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the government is still pushing for peace, despite Malaysia’s preparations for war.
“Well, we cannot speak for Malaysia. What we are earnestly pursuing right now is what the President announced very recently on the National Peace Summit, that we can discuss in a non-impassioned manner the peace process and, specifically, the BBL,” Lacierda said.
“We are confident that as more stakeholders are involved, and as more people are informed about the peace process in general and the Bangsamoro Basic Law specifically, we will be able to continue to muster the general sentiment. And we believe that the sentiment of the people is towards peace. It’s just that we need to look at the peace process from the prism of all the stakeholders involved, not necessarily in just one incident, the Mamasapano,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda admitted that the Mamasapano incident has hurt peace negotiations with the MILF.
“But we need to look at the peace process in and of itself. What is at stake? Who are the stakeholders? What do we look forward to? And all these things have been enunciated by the President. So we continue to believe that... the general population believes in the peace process,” he said.