PH sends ship to Sabah

But Sulu sultan says followers staying put

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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

The followers of the sultan of Sulu holed up in a village in Sabah, eastern Malaysia, could be flushed out Monday after the expiration on Sunday of a 48-hour extension of the Malaysian deadline for them to leave and the failure of Malacañang’s back-channel efforts to solve the standoff peacefully.

The Philippine government sent a humanitarian ship to Sabah Sunday night to bring home the women and children among the sultan’s armed followers holed up in Tanduao village in Lahad Datu town and encircled by Malaysian security forces, but the sultanate said no one would go with the mercy mission.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement that the ship would sail from Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, before midnight and stand by off Lahad Datu as Malaysian authorities talked with the sultan’ followers.

The DFA said it informed the Malaysian Embassy last Saturday that the Philippine government was sending a ship to Sabah. Malaysian foreign minister Anifah Aman told AFP, however, that he had “yet to be informed on this matter.” Ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The vessel will sail for 11 to 12 hours and is expected to arrive in Lahud Datu at noon Monday. Aboard the mercy ship were Filipino Muslim leaders, social workers and medical personnel, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario  said, stressing that the government “was deeply concerned” about the presence of women among the group.

Del Rosario called 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,” he added.

An Inquirer source said Philippine officials hoped the Malaysians would hold their fire as the mercy mission was going on “for the sake of innocent lives.”

Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia J. Eduardo Malaya said in a text message to the Inquirer: “Arrangements have been made with Malaysian authorities for the entry of the humanitarian mission to Lahad Datu.”

“Our priority is the safety and security of the women and other civilians in the group. We thank the Malaysian government for allowing the ship’s entry and their shared concern for the well-being of the civilians,” Malaya said.

An Inquirer source said the ship would also pick up any of the Sulu sultan’s armed followers who would choose to go home.

No one’s going

The Sulu sultanate said Sunday night that it was not notified about the humanitarian mission.

But Abraham Idjirani, secretary general and spokesman of the sultanate, said the Sulu sultan was thanking President Aquino for the humanitarian assistance.

Idjirani said, however, that the women among the sultan’s followers in Tanduao were “determined to stay with their husbands.”

“They won’t leave,” Idjirani told the Inquirer in a phone interview.

Del Rosario had requested Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman to work out a four-day extension of the Feb. 22 deadline to give government emissaries more time to convince Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to order his 250 followers in Tanduao to stand down and return home.

But all the Malaysian government was willing to grant was a 48-hour extension, which expired Sunday with the back-channel contact the Aquino administration had hoped could convince Jamalul to call his followers back home still in Manila.

The contact, Sultan Bantilan Esmail Kiram III, a brother of Jamalul, had changed his mind about going to Sabah to convince the sultan’s followers to lay down their arms and return home.

It remained unclear on Sunday why Esmail changed his mind about helping end the standoff without bloodshed.

Hardliner

Officials said, however, that communication lines with Esmail and the sultan remained open. They said the Malaysian government preferred to talk with Esmail because Jamalul was a hardliner.

Feeling left out of the peace negotiations between the administration of President Aquino and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Jamalul sent a group of followers, including 250 armed men and some women and children, to Sabah to press his clan’s claim to the territory formerly known as North Borneo.

The group landed in Tanduao village on Feb. 9, drove out the residents, and occupied it to signify a presence that stood for ownership of the land that belonged to the Sulu sultanate but passed on by Britain to Malaysia in 1957 after granting independence to its colony once known as Malaya.

Malaysia leases Sabah from the descendants of the Sulu sultan for 5,300 ringgit, or P77,000, a year, a token sum that may be one of the reasons for Jamalul’s decision to order the occupation of the territory.

Jamalul’s followers, led by his brother Agbimuddin Kiram and styling themselves as the “Royal Security Forces of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo,” are reportedly running out of food supplies and foraging around Tanduao for root crops and vegetables as a food blockade thrown around the village by the Malaysian authorities has begun to bite.

Jamalul asked the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) on Feb. 20 to help his followers whose lives are threatened by the food blockade, but the UN agency had not announced a response as of Sunday.

Irresponsible, reckless

A senior diplomat blamed the crisis on the “irresponsibility and recklessness” of the heirs of the Sulu sultanate.

The diplomat said Jamalul’s order to his followers to hold their ground despite the presence of women and children among them showed the heirs’ “irresponsibility and lack of concern for civilian lives.”

It is “illogical and irrational” for Jamalul to say that his followers’ objective is peaceful when they are armed and intruding into the territory of a neighboring country, the diplomat said.

“If there is bloodshed, it will be on the Kirams’ hands and not on the government’s,” the diplomat said.

The diplomat described the heirs’ Sabah decision as “quixotic and reckless.” By going ahead with it, they have placed at risk the peace process with the MILF and all Filipinos’ expectations of peace and development in Mindanao, the diplomat said.

Taking claim to UN

The Kirams called a news conference on Friday to say that they wanted to elevate their claim to Sabah to the United Nations and to the International Court of Justice.

President Aquino has ordered a study of the Sabah claim, including a look through its history and the documents covering the lease agreement between the Sulu sultanate and Malaysia and an assessment of its validity.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on Sunday that the claim would be treated separately in the future.

For now, she said, the government’s main concern was to ensure the safety of the Sulu sultan’s followers in Sabah.

Diplomats were reportedly at a meeting Sunday as the extension of the deadline for Agbimuddin’s group to leave on its own neared.

As of press time on Sunday night, there was no word from the foreign office about the result of the meeting.

Not too long

In Malaysia, Foreign Minister Anifah was reported as saying the government was “hoping the standoff will end peacefully with the latest deadline.”

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters that he wanted the 2-week-old standoff to “end sooner than later” without bloodshed.

But he said the extended period should not be too long and his ministry would leave it to the security forces to conduct an operation to end the standoff.—With reports from The Star/Asia News Network, Christine O. Avendaño and Agence France-Press

Originally posted: 9:23 pm | Sunday, February 24th, 2013

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Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • ApoLapullapu

    “Reportedly running out of food.”  Who is the source of this information?  Sometimes “reportedly” is used by reporters to qualify their opinion on what is going on.  Please be more accurate.  These people would not have initiated this expedition if they had not become desperate.  Even the President does not know what the Heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu are claiming.  “The President has ordered a study of the Sabah claim.”  He did not care until this stand off is taking place.

  • katabay1106

    What is our cowardly government is doing is surrendering our rightful claim to the territory of the Sultan of Sulu. By all means send our our Phil. Army and Navy to depend our land stolen by the Malaysian. For once, let us help our muslim brothers reclaimed their stolen property.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_W6UV7JR6LDQ7YYGVAMDOBGEPIM Rami

    Going retro in reclaiming Sabah and making monarchy in the name of Kiram and heirs in our archipelago and placing our national security and economic gain aat risk are not practiical.They are even  many claimants of that eastern part of Sabah.Increments in compensation were asked in the past and unfortunately were not heeded by Malaysian government.The 2 past govt asked the heirs to make one stand but to no avail.Coming there  armed with guns will not solve anything and it even lessen the chance to get a fair deal even  to we have a valid argument to regain it for the sultanate in Sulu.Let us live in the present and the future will take it course.Providing peace,livehood,and education in the South will make Mindanao a greater place to live and will ne good for the whole nation.

  • Albert Einstien

    yan diplomat na yan …pwede ba pangalan nyo po…TRAYDOR at GALUNGGUNG pa..yan…” intruding into the territory of a neighboring country “..HINDI ba TERRITORYO natin ang SABAH kaya nga me CLAIM..at me intervention case pa ang RP govt nong 2001 sa sipadan at ligitan case between indonesia & malaysia……..DAPAT sa yo po FIRING SQUAD…magkano po ba BINAYAD sa INYO ng MALAYSIA…ilang baldeng langis at mukhang NAPAKA-DULAS…

  • Yahilawod

    Comment section is teeming with warmongers. Some could be Chinese spies trying to weaken the Gov’t and bolster their own claims to some other islands. Others are simply fools who can’t tell the difference between bravery and stupidity. What war are they talking about and for what cause?

  • josefe38

    THE LUKEWARM TREATMENT OF THE ABNOY ADMINISTRATION TO THE SABAH  STANDOFF AND THE 2013 MIDTERM ELECTION ARE PRELUDES TO A 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WHERE IN A MALACANANG (abnoy) – MALAYSIAN (milf) CANDIDATE PITTED AGAINST VP BINAY.

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