Malaysia is not recognizing the 300 armed Filipinos who illegally entered Sabah last week as legitimate residents of the territory, and has decided to deport them back to Sulu in southern Philippines.
Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib on Sunday said the gunmen had agreed to be deported but asked for a meeting with a prominent figure before deportation.
Hamza did not name the prominent figure, but said the police were making concerted efforts to arrange the meeting.
Speaking to reporters in Kota Kinabalu on Sunday, Datuk Seri Salleh Mat Rasid, director of the Bukit Aman Internal Security and Public Order, said talks with the intruders were over and that deportation proceedings would begin soon.
The armed group styling itself as the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” is holed up in the seaside village of Tanduao in Lahad Datu town, where they landed in speedboats on Feb. 12 after crossing the sea from Simunul Island in the Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi.
Their leader, Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of a descendant of the sultan of Sulu, claimed that he and his group, Tausug like most residents of Sabah, were returning to their “homeland” and demanded that they be recognized as the Sulu sultanate’s royal army and not be deported from the territory.
“We are not entertaining any demands. Actually, we are not giving them any kind of recognition,” Salleh said.
“We were there to ensure everyone’s safety. We are now finalizing the details of the deportation process,” he said.
As reported in Manila, Agbimuddin’s group is pressing the claim of the Sulu sultanate to Sabah, which the administration of President Aquino appears to have put aside to avoid complications in the Malaysia-brokered peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
But in Malaysia, the government and the security agencies report no relation of the Sulu sultanate’s claim to Sabah to the intrusion by Agbimuddin’s group.
“There has been a lot of untrue reports and speculations about this incident,” Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said on Saturday, referring to reports that the intruders were militants or supporters of the Sulu sultan.
“I wish to stress that we will not in any way compromise the safety of Sabahans and the security of the state. Allegations that the government has compromised on this are not true,” he said.
Hamza denied that a descendant of the Sulu sultanate and a relative of Agbimuddin, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, was assisting the talks with the gunmen.
“There is no such personality with such a name involved,” Hamza added.
If the Manila reports are true that Agbimuddin and his group traveled to Sabah to press the sultanate’s claim to the territory, they did it the wrong way, Hamza said.
“They came in illegally so this is the wrong platform. We advised them to go through the right channels and told them that we are sending them back,” he said.
In Manila, Malacañang said it was “disturbed” that Agbimuddin’s “journey,” supposedly authorized by a “royal decree” issued by Jamalul in November last year, happened at a time when the Aquino administration was threshing out a final peace agreement with the MILF.
“We find it disturbing that these incidents are occurring just as we are nearing a deal that will bring peace and development to Muslim Mindanao,” Strategic Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang said in a text message to the Inquirer.
Carandang refused to comment on reports that Agbimuddin’s so-called journey had to do with the Sulu sultanate’s claim to Sabah, saying the claim was a “delicate and sensitive issue.”
“[W]e will deal with it in a way that upholds our national interest. Beyond that it would not be prudent to discuss specifics,” he said.
Go to the UN
Also on Sunday, Harry Roque, a professor of law at the University of the Philippines, said Agbimuddin’s action should prod President Aquino to bring the Philippines’ claim to Sabah to arbitration in the United Nations.
Senatorial candidate Ernesto Maceda, a former Philippine ambassador to the United States, also said the government should consider bringing the Sabah claim to the UN.
Roque said Agbimuddin’s entry into Sabah was symptomatic of a long-pestering issue that the government had ignored in view of Malaysia’s role as facilitator in the peace talks with the MILF.
“Under international law, the Sultanate of Sulu should not have been the party pressing this claim, but the Philippine state,” Roque said. “This is something that the government seems to have forgotten. They have a right and they’re enforceable under international law.”
Maceda, a former senator, said a more vigorous pursuit of the Philippine claim could help resolve the territorial question involving the eastern Malaysian state.
“Renewed government effort is the only way to stop the followers of the sultan of Sulu from taking up arms and invading Sabah to press their claim,” he said.
Malacañang deferred comment on the Inquirer’s report Sunday about Jamalul Kiram’s 2010 letter to President Aquino on the Sulu sultanate’s stand on the peace negotiations with the MILF.
But Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process was looking into reports that the Kirams felt left out of the peace negotiations.—Reports from TJ Burgonio, Leila B. Salaverria, New Straits Times and The Star/Asia News Network