The last batch of Malaysian peacekeepers flew out of the southern Philippines yesterday, throwing into doubt prospects of a fast resumption of peace talks between Manila and Muslim rebels.
The 12 International Monitoring Team members boarded a military cargo plane for Kuala Lumpur from the southern island of Mindanao. Twenty-one Malaysian soldiers and policemen had left in May.
“Its nice to go home but leaving behind friends is hard. We hope that we can come back again in a different capacity,” said mission head First Admiral Pahlawan Amzah bin Sulaiman before departing.
“I hope that the Philippine government and MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] can resume the peace talks soon,” he said.
The Malaysians have made up the bulk of the small international monitoring team which has overseen a 2003 ceasefire between the Philippine government and the separatist MILF.
Members from Brunei, Libya and Japan will continue with their work, although with barely two dozen covering the south, it is unlikely they will be effective, officials have said.
Malaysia has said it was pulling out its troops because of a lack of progress in the peace talks, which have been suspended since Philippine President Gloria Arroyo ordered a massive assault on the rebels in August.
A fresh breakdown in talks came after MILF fighters staged a series of coordinated, deadly attacks across several towns and provinces on Mindanao island that left hundreds of thousands displaced and dozens dead.
The attacks came shortly after the Supreme Court issued an injunction against a proposed deal that would have given the rebels control over 700 towns and territories across Mindanao. It subsequently ruled the deal was unconstitutional.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which tracks conflicts worldwide, has said that while the fighting will not lead to an all-out war covering the whole of Mindanao, it does not see both sides returning to the table for talks anytime soon.