MANILA, April 28, 2008 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang remained optimistic the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will succeed even as it accepted the decision of Malaysia to pull out from the contingent monitoring the ceasefire with the Muslim rebel group.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the pullout of the Malaysian contingent from the International Monitoring Team (IMT) will not trigger renewed fighting between the government and the MILF.

Ermita said the five-year-old peace negotiations between the government and the MILF have matured enough that mechanisms are being implemented with the help of the international community to discourage another armed confrontation.

“Our talks have progressed and matured relatively smoothly that there is a high level of trust and confidence between both sides,” Ermita said.

Ermita said Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza and chief government negotiator Undersecretary Rodolfo Garcia have been holding backchannel talks with their counterparts from Brunei and Malaysia, the two countries that earlier expressed intentions to reduce their presence in the IMT.

Dureza, for his part, took exception to allegations blaming the government for the slow pace of peace negotiations which resulted in the withdrawal of the Malaysians from the IMT.

“Let no one, whether foreign or domestic elements, publicly posture as if they are more interested than us in a peaceful settlement with our rebels,” Dureza said in a statement.

“We are doing our level best. Of course with utmost due diligence. We appreciate the help of Malaysians in our peace process and we respect and accept their latest decision,” he said.

Dureza said the government remains committed to push the peace process forward notwithstanding the imminent withdrawal of Malaysia from the IMT.

The bulk of the IMT, which is keeping tabs on the ceasefire between the government and the MILF, is composed of military personnel from Malaysia and Brunei.

Brunei also announced plans to follow Malaysia in withdrawing from the IMT.

Ermita, however, said Dureza and Garcia will make representations with the two countries to convince them to stay longer until after the conclusion of the peace talks.

Ermita earlier pointed out the shaky ceasefire agreement signed on July 19, 2003 with the MILF must be monitored by the IMT to pave the way for formal peace talks.

Malaysian-brokered talks between the Philippine government and the MILF hit a snag in December when rebel negotiators walked away from a meeting after disputing proposals by Manila, including the extent of territory that would fall under Muslim control. – Edith Regalado

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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