Petaling Jaya (The Star/ANN) - The southern Philippines framework peace agreement will be beneficial to Malaysia, especially the state of Sabah, as it could pave the way for peace that would help reduce an influx of illegal immigrants from the troubled region into the state.
Defence Minister Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the agreement, reached on Saturday in Kuala Lumpur between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), could also allow Malaysia's military to free up more of its resources in order to widen its area of coverage in combating piracy.
"With peace, there will be a reduction in the influx of immigrants into Sabah. Not only is it expensive for us to tackle illegal immigrants into Sabah, it could create economic and political problems in the state," he told The Star.
"In terms of the impact on our security, we currently have the Ops Pasir border security arrangement involving the three branches of our armed forces, so the agreement will be an opportunity for Ops Pasir to be widened to other areas," he added.
Dr Ahmad Zahid said the agreement also created an opportunity for Malaysian companies such as Lembaga Tabung Haji to invest in the Mindanao region in southern Philippines.
"This could indirectly help the mainly Muslim population in the area to upgrade their standard of living."
He said Malaysia currently had a 26-member strong delegation to the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in southern Philippines who were rotated every nine months.
They are part of the 60 international monitors currently in place.
Malaysia, he said, had stationed observers in Mindanao since 2004. Currently, Defence Forces chief Zulkifli Mohd Zain is serving as IMT's first commander.
Meanwhile, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) vice-president Christine Beerli, who welcomed the framework for peace, said the ICRC would continue its humanitarian efforts to assist the thousands who had been displaced in Mindanao owing to years of conflict.
"We have worked in Mindanao for a long time and will continue to work there," she said after the opening of a Senior Workshop on International Rules Governing Military Operations here yesterday.