Philippines carnage scaring away investors: business group

COTABATO, Philippines (AFP) - A bloodbath in the southern Philippines has placed at risk billions of pesos in potential investment, a business leader in the region said Monday.

At least three foreign firms looking to partner with local businessmen have put investments on hold after a deadly clash between Philippine forces and Muslim rebels, Mohamad Omar Pasigan, president of the Bangsamoro Business Club, told AFP.

The botched anti-terror operation on January 25 left 44 police commandos dead in the southern island of Mindanao, along with at least 11 rebels.

"Security is everything for businessmen out to make a profit... They know when to take a risk and when to pull out," Mr Pasigan said. "They are willing to come here and invest, but then this fighting happened."

The value of investments on hold due to the fighting, in the real estate and agriculture sectors, is estimated at "billions" of pesos, he said.

Malaysian businessmen due to arrive on Monday to inspect sites in Cotabato city have cancelled their trip, Mr Pasigan said. The group was looking to build small hotels and department stores.

Jordanian businessmen looking to invest in up to 50 hectares of banana farms left abruptly on Sunday without finalising a deal, he added, while Singaporean and Malaysian partners seeking to replicate their mini shopping mall business in Johor Baru said they were postponing their investment.

Mr Pasigan declined to name the businessmen since their plans were not finalised. He said his group was helping foreigners find local partners.

Philippine laws prohibit foreign nationals from owning a majority of local businesses.

The firefight between police commandos and Muslim rebels on January 25 broke a long-standing ceasefire and endangered a peace treaty signed in March 2013.

Economic planning secretary Arsenio Balisacan acknowledged that the government must quickly bring calm to the region.

"The perception of risk is bad for business... At this point, (the fighting) doesn't have any significant impact but again it's closure we need," he told reporters recently.

Balisacan said the south, wracked by decades of conflict that has left tens of thousands dead, had the potential to be a growth driver, given its fertile land for agriculture and rich mineral deposits.

"It's a missed opportunity if we don't resolve this problem at the soonest time possible," he said.

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