Malaysia in standoff with Filipino Muslim rebels


KUALA LUMPUR—Malaysia’s government said Thursday that its security forces have surrounded dozens of suspected Filipino Muslim rebels in a remote area with a history of incursions by armed Islamic groups in the Philippines.

About 80-100 gunmen had been cornered in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters.

He said security forces were negotiating with the men near the small coastal town of Lahad Datu.

“We know the situation is still under control. I confirm that no Malaysian citizens, to my knowledge, are being held hostage or for ransom,” Hishammuddin said.

“Security forces are still in control and negotiating with them, some of whom are armed.”

He declined to confirm that the gunmen were from the adjacent southern Philippines.

But asked whether Philippine authorities were involved in negotiations, Hishammuddin said: “Of course they will have to be involved in the operations.”

National police chief Ismail Omar had said in a statement late Wednesday that “the intrusion is a result of the problems in the southern Philippines”.

That was an apparent reference to Muslim militants and other lawlessness Mindanao, which lies just across the Sulu Sea from Sabah.

Malaysia is predominantly Muslim.

Earlier Thursday Prime Minister Najib Razak was quoted by The Star newspaper as saying police were negotiating with the gunmen “to get the group to leave peacefully to prevent bloodshed”.

“We have surrounded the area and our police and armed forces have the ability to handle the matter,” he was quoted as saying.

The Star’s report added that a tight security ring including army and naval forces had been thrown around the “heavily armed” group.

Wednesday’s statement by Ismail had said the men had surrendered when ordered and the situation was defused. The government has not yet explained the about-face.

A Philippine military official told Agence France-Presse that Manila did not rule out the possibility that the men could be members of the extremist group Abu Sayyaf.

The small gang of self-styled Islamic militants has carried out previous raids into Malaysian waters.

In 2000 Abu Sayyaf guerrillas seized 21 mostly Western holidaymakers as hostages at the Malaysian scuba diving resort of Sipadan near Lahad Datu, taking them off to Philippine islands. They were later ransomed.

“We have received similar reports but we cannot confirm, nor rule out, whether they are members of the ASG (Abu Sayyaf group),” said Philippine southern command military chief Lieutenant General Rey Ardo.

“Other lawless elements as well as (Filipino) pirates are also known to stray into Malaysian waters.”

Security on Sabah’s coast has been a problem for Malaysia, with tens of thousands of Filipinos believed to have migrated illegally to the state over the past few decades and people moving freely across the maritime border.

Two Malaysians were kidnapped from a plantation in the area in November and were believed to have been taken to the southern Philippines.

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  • stealth ice

    Malaysian government first grab our land the SABAH and now a Malaysian National robbed Filipinos billions of pesos in the scam. My advise to my kababayan, you may love your neighbors but DON’T TRUST THEM.

  • stealth ice

    instead of MNLF, MILF and ASG fighting for self rule in Mindanao, why not retake Sabah and govern on it. Sabah is rich in Natural resources and definitly belongs to the Sultanate of Sulu. Philippine government should support the claim of the Suluanos on the Sabah and gave the state to the rightful owner which are the Suluanos. After this true peace will be achieved in Philippines.

    • Edgardo Mendoza

      sultan of sulu sale sabah to malaysian they not trust to marcos stupid basta pilipino tausug utak talangka! pabalikin ninyo d2 si amanilio kaya masabi ko sayo dont trust to your neighbor trust to your own countrymen

    • Matambaka

       TAMA..ang giyera ng MILF,MNLF,ASG, dun dalhin sa Sabah…..

      Ang mMAlaysian sinusuppportahan ang mga armed group s abansa natin para di maungkat ang pag clain sa Sabah

      malas nila ng mag peace deal ang MILF brokered by Malaysia….

      eh di nagkusa ang Sulu Sultan na bawiin ang Malaysia…

  • Edgardo Mendoza

    malaysian need to pay rent to the family sultan of sulu they are very hungry! no food to eat

  • nivrams

    So the crap from Filipinos that Sabah should belong to them blah blah blah, comes back again. Yes, Brunei ceded the east coast of northern Borneo (half of present day Sabah) to Sulu. And yes, Sulu leased the same area to the British. And of course, the Spanish colony of Phillipines annexed Sulu. Then, the Phillipines achieved independence.

    Where in this narrative has an independent Phillipines ever owned the Sulu-leased land of north eastern Borneo?

    But the most important milestone that renders this argument mute is this – in 1963, under the leadership of Donald Stephens and with the blessings of the British government, North Borneo declared independence, before immediately joining Malaya, Singapore and Sarawak to form the Federation of Malaysia. Most importantly, this decision was a consequence from the findings of the Cobbold Commission – technically a democratic decision. So North Borneo/Sabah declared independence – from the British and also from whoever that had laid claims on her.

    So you ask why don’t Malaysia agree to go to ICJ to solve this issue? Because it is a non-issue. The Phillipnes will have nothing to lose going to ICJ and Malaysia and Sabah will have everything at stake. Higher up the stakes, if the Phillipines loses, they’ll cede Zamboanga southwards, and if we lose we’ll give you the east coast Sabah. Agree and we can talk.

    On another note, if a survey was done on Sabahans today on whether they would like to join the Phillipines. Make sure that a huge majority would vote against it. Even Filipinos living in Sabah would vote against this.

    Remember, we showed you the finger and declared independence once. If we want, we’ll do it again, but not to you because you Filipinos are the past. We are keeping it for KL if they don’t get their acts right.

    • Jess

      Nivrams is assuming a lot about his topic. If indeed, Sabah declared independence, independence from what? Why are they still paying a yearly lease of 5,000 dollars to the heirs of Sultan Kiram if it is really independent? Isn’t this an expression of contradiction? You also assume that the Sabahans will choose to more with Malaysia than with the PHilippines. When it declared independence, the Malaysian confederation was not yet born. 

      This is a lopsided issue in favour of Sabah. They have the arms and the issue is now lukewarm to the Filipinos. Even the Aquino government seems impotent to deal with it. 

      • nivrams

        I will realign my statements according to the facts and to those that are assumption.

        Fact 1
        Sabah did declare independence in 1963, and immediately formed the Federation of Malaysia together with Malaya, Singapore and Sarawak. Brunei withdrew from the initial pact. Obviously we declared independence from Britain. But technically, we have also declared independence from anybody who was staking a claim on us at that time. It’s our clean slate. This is how Malaysia was born.

        As a Catholic, I think this could be comparable to baptism. Once baptized, all the original sins are forgiven and we have our clean slate. We needed to declare independence before we could decide on our on fate. That is how it works today and how it worked back then.

        Fact 2
        Read up on the Cobbol Commission. A survey was done on the population of North Borneo/Sabah on which direction should be taken for the state/country – whether she would form a new country together with fellow British colonies in the region, or remain as part of the crown, or something else. The survey shows strong support towards a new federation of states. And so became Malaysia. But please don’t think that this the (skewed) history that we learn in Malaysian schools. Even the Malaysian government nowadays try to play this historical event down as they would like us to think that Sabah and Sarawak were instead “absorbed” by Malaysia.

        If a more proper and democratic survey/vote was done today, Sabahans would choose Malaysia over the Phillipines. Well, no survey has been done yet but as a Sabahan, I know better the you Pinos and would advise against betting against it. Why? There are a few major ethnic tribes in Sabah. The native Kadazandusuns have never had any cultural connections to the Filipinos. There’s no incentive for them to consider joining with the Phillipines. The Chinese have achieved relative prosperity in Malaysia, especially compared to the Phillipines. So now, Pinos love to point out that the Tausug might support the Filipino claims. But facts show otherwise. Because of historical identity, they might long for the return of a Sulu Kingdom. But you destroyed the kingdom remember? Unless you make Kiram as the Sultan of the Phillipines, there is no way they would want you.
        Pinos also overestimate the influence of the Kirams over the Sabah tausugs. The Sabahan tausug leaders are much more influential. The descendents of Tun Mustapha, the great Suluk leader are all part of the established ruling elite. They have become so rich that there is no way they would risk all that away. Shafie Apdal, another Suluk, is the vice president of the ruling party in Malaysia and the most trusted right hand man of the current PM although he might never be the PM himself. So, assimption/speculation yes, but I have facts to back it up.

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