Malaysia seeks progress in Philippine peace talks

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 3 (Reuters) Malaysia is pushing for progress in peace talks between the Phillipines and the country's biggest Muslim rebel group, but has not threatened to withdraw its peacekeepers, a government source said today.

Malaysia has however reminded the Philippines that its unarmed troops do not have a mandate to stay beyond the end of November, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Tension has risen lately between the Philippine army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with each side accusing the other of breaking a ceasefire during a skirmish on the island of Basilan last week.

Philippine sources yesterday said that Malaysia had threatened during an informal meeting in Kuala Lumpur last week to recall its 60 monitors from the southern Philippine region of Mindanao to pressure the two sides to resume talks.

A Malaysian government source said a withdrawal was possible but denied any threat had been issued. ''We did not threaten, just reminding both that the IMT's extension is just for three months only,'' the source, who was close to the talks, told Reuters.

The mandate for the International Monitoring Team (IMT) runs until the end of November, after a three-month extension from August 31 at Manila's request.

Unarmed Malaysian soldiers have been in Mindanao since 2004 as part of an effort to end nearly 40 years of conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people and displaced 2 million. Libya and Brunei also have small contingents in the monitoring team.

Malaysian Defence Minister Najib Razak has said there were limits to what his country could do.

''Ultimately there has to be a political solution...we cannot keep our force there indefinitely,'' he said last month.

''Let us see if there's substantial progress,'' he added.

Mindanao has been a focus of international attention because Western governments believe it has been a training base for Islamic militants with links to al Qaeda and regional group Jemaah Islamiah.

Reuters SG DB1008

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