COTABATO CITY - A Malaysian army general who heads the International Monitoring Team (IMT) contingent based in Cotabato City shrugged off possible threats to their safety as an offshoot of the Sabah crackdown saying they have full trust in the Philippine government to ensure their safety.
"We have complete trust in the government of the Philippines and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front)," IMT chief Major General Mokhtar Fadzil told reporters in an interview. "The government is responsible for providing us with security and we have full confidence in the ability of government forces to protect (us).
The Malaysian Embassy in Manila earlier issued an advisory for its citizens in the Philippines to exercise additional precaution amid the escalating conflict in Sabah between Malaysian security forces and the Filipino followers of the Sultanate of Sulu.
Likewise, Fadzil expressed confidence that the violence in Sabah will not affect the ongoing peace talks between the Philippine government and the the MILF. He said as far as he is concerned the two issues are "not related."
"Sabah is a separate matter and I don't think that can affect the peace talks between the MILF and the government of the Philippines," Fadzil said. "My concern is the peace process which is independent from what is happening there."
He said they have considered several scenarios occurring in relation to the Sabah conflict and the peace process and have found it to be completely separate.
"Neither party (the Philippine government and the MILF) has associated itself with the Sabah party," Fadzil pointed out. "These two parties are negotiating, that's why we say that (the Sabah conflict) is separate matter and will not affect the (peace) talks."
"We don't rule out that possibility but we don't see any sign," he went on to say.
He said they are also aware about the existence of entities who are out to spoil the peace process. However, the IMT so far have not monitored such activities in pursuit of this aim.
With regards to the possibility that clan wars, or Rido, could escalate and thus violate the ceasefire agreement, Fadzil said the IMT will appeal for both parties to exercise restraint.
He explained that when two parties involved in the (clan) feud will only escalate "if they can't control themselves."
"If the feud continues and erupts into fighting, you are forcing the government to come in and the government will be confronting its partner (MILF). That is what we are worried about," he said.
"And if this partner cannot be controlled it would be dragging the organization," Fadzil added. "At the moment it has not gone that far. Our concern is that Rido could lead to it."
"(We) don't want the two parties to violate the agreement that they have signed," he stressed. "We keep appealing to both parties, but it has not reached that stage, it has not gone to that extent but we are conscious of this."
"If it happens we will be appealing to the parties to exercise restraint," he added. "I can't cite any examples because it has not happened. That's only a fear. We only have to be cautious."
The IMT monitors the implementation of the peace agreement between the Philippines and MILF.