Sabah Situation – Philippines Seeks Peaceful End to Malaysia Standoff as 14 Killed
The Philippines called on about 100 remaining members of a Muslim group that invaded a Malaysian town about two weeks ago to return home after a shootout yesterday killed at least 14 people.Two Malaysian commandos and 12 loyalists to Jamalul Kiram, who claims to be sultan of Sulu, were killed in Lahad Datu yesterday, according to Sabah police chief Hamza Taib. About 100 members of his group, which says it has sovereignty over part of Malaysia, remain in the area, Taib said by phone.
“There now exists a small window of opportunity to arrive at a peaceful conclusion to the situation in Lahad Datu,” Ricky Carandang, a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino, said in an e-mail yesterday. “We are exerting every effort to seize that opportunity, and are hopeful that the Kiram family and their followers will seize it with us, so that further bloodshed may be avoided.”
The incident revived a decades-old sovereignty dispute over Malaysia’s Sabah state months after Prime Minister Najib Razak helped Aquino reach a peace deal with a Muslim separatist group. The Sulu sultanate says it leased Sabah to the British North Borneo Company in 1878, an agreement Malaysia views as a cessation of territory.
About 180 people, including 30 with weapons, arrived in Lahad Datu in the middle of last month to assert the Sulu sultanate’s claims to Sabah. Ten surrendered yesterday during the shootout and others fled by sea, Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters.
‘Exposed to Danger’
Taib said police imposed a curfew since yesterday afternoon and nobody had been arrested or escaped. Malaysia acted with restraint as Aquino urged the group to return to the Philippines, Najib said.“The longer they stay, they will be exposed to danger in terms of what can happen to them,” Bernama news agency cited Najib as saying yesterday. “I guarantee we will not allow this matter to continue without security forces taking action.”
Aquino had warned Jamalul Kiram on Feb. 26 that he will face charges if he fails to order his followers to return home. The Philippines plans to pursue its territorial claim to Sabah at a later time under international law, Carandang told reporters in Manila yesterday.
Kiram plans to report the shootout with Malaysian authorities to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, his spokesman Abraham Idjirani said in a television interview with ABS-CBN News yesterday.Jamalul’s title of sultan is disputed by other members of the Kiram family, who claim it for themselves, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The Province of Sulu’s website lists Ismael Kiram as sultan.
Sabah fell under British control after World War II and joined Malaysia in 1963. It had a poverty rate of 19.7 percent in 2009, the highest among Malaysia’s 13 states, according to government statistics.