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Sultanate thanks Aquino for sending ship but says Filipinos will stay in Sabah


10:45 PM February 24th, 2013

By: Christine O. Avendaño, February 24th, 2013 10:45 PM

Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram talks to reporters during a news conference in Alabang, south of Manila, Philippines on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. His followers who crossed to the Malaysian state of Sabah this month will not leave and are reclaiming the area as their ancestral territory, the sultan said Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, amid a tense standoff. AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—The Sultanate of Sulu said on Sunday night it was not notified by the Philippine government about the dispatch of the ship to Lahur Datu to fetch Filipino Muslims who have been occupying a village in Sabah for days.

But Abraham Iridjani, secretary-general and national spokesperson of the sultanate, said that both the Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III and Crowned Prince Agbimuddin Kiram II  thanked President Aquino for the humanitarian assistance.

Asked whether the women in the group would return home with the humanitarian ship, Iridjani said the women were “determined” to stay with their husbands.

“They won’t leave,” Iridjani said in a phone interview.

The Sultanate of Sulu sent its followers to Sabah, which it has been claiming as its ancestral domain for decades.  Its claim has been boosted by the fact that Malaysia has been paying the sultanate rent money for its lease of Sabah.

The Sultanate sent its followers days ago after sensing that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which would soon sign a peace agreement with the Aquino government, was indifferent to the Sulu sultanate’s ancestral domain claims.

The government dispatched on Sunday night, a ship to fetch and ferry back women and other civilians who have been among the 180 Muslim Filipinos and followers of the Sultan of Sulu holed up in a village in Sabah.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the ship, with hull number AT296, sailed from Bongao, Tawi-tawi, to the village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu, where the followers of the Sultan have stayed for the past two weeks to claim it as their homeland.

“We sent the ship to Lahad Datu on a humanitarian mission. We are deeply concerned about the presence of five women and other civilians in the group, and we urge them to board the ship without delay and return home,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said in a statement.

“As we have stated in countless occasions previously, we call on the entire group to go back to their homes and families, even at the same time we are addressing the core issues they have raised.  Please do so for your own safety,” Del Rosario said.

According to the DFA, the ship is being prepositioned offshore Lahad Datu while talks with the group are being done. There are 180 followers of the Sultan in the group, including some 30 armed escorts.

The DFA said it informed as early as last Saturday the Malaysian embassy in Manila about the dispatch of the ship.

Filipino-Muslim leaders as well as social workers and medical personnel are onboard the ship.

Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III had said his followers will remain in the village.

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