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Malaysia Extends Philippine Peacekeeping Mission


Malaysia agreed to extend a mandate to keep its peacekeepers in the volatile southern Philippines, where they will continue to monitor a shaky cease-fire between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Nancy-Amelia Collins in Jakarta has more.

Malaysia agreed Thursday to keep its peace monitors in the war-torn southern Philippine island, Mindanao, for another three months, following appeals from the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The announcement came after officials from the Philippine government and the MILF met in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, for the first time since fighting broke out, earlier this month.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabala told VOA the group welcomes the extension.

"Anything that would improve the effort toward peace, contribute toward peace, will be a welcome development. It will help a lot in our effort to pursue the peaceful resolution of the Mindanao problem," he said.

More than 40 people have died and more than 360,000 have been displaced after several renegade MILF commanders attacked several villages in the southern Philippine island, Mindanao.

The attacks followed the Philippine Supreme Court's decision to issue a temporary restraining order against the signing of a crucial territorial agreement that would have given the MILF an expanded Muslim autonomous region.

Thursday, the government announced aid had been stepped up to feed and shelter the hundreds of thousands left homeless by the fighting.

The United Nations World Food Program says it is beefing up its food assistance with nearly 1,000 tons of rice and is trying to get food to places quickly and where it is most needed.

The MILF and the government have been negotiating, on and off, since 1997 on ways to give Muslims more self rule in the south.

Following the recent fighting - the worse seen in Mindanao in years - the government said it would need to review the peace agreement.

But Eid Kabala says there is still hope for the two sides to return to the negotiating table.
"We are still confident. And, right now the peace talks have yet to be broken down - not yet," he said.

The peace talks between the government and the MILF have been brokered by Malaysia, which heads the cease-fire monitors, which include both military and nonmilitary personnel from Japan, Libya and Brunei.

The Philippines is a predominately Roman Catholic. About five percent of the people are Muslim, most of them living in the south.