100 armed men from Sulu land on island
Malaysian security forces have surrounded a group of about 100 Filipinos that landed on Lahad Datu in Sabah, Eastern Malaysia on outrigger boats from nearby Philippine islands and police officials were negotiating their surrender, according to Bernama, the official news agency.
“(Malaysia) will do its best to resolve the intrusion of a group of Filipino men in Lahad Datu amicably to prevent any bloodshed,” Bernama quoted Prime Minister Najib Razak as saying.
Najib said the situation in Sabah was under control and negotiations were under way to allow the Filipinos to leave the area and return to Mindanao peacefully. “This is what we want because they also have relatives here. Hence, we do not want any loss of life and that is why we have asked them to go home peacefully,” Najib told reporters.
In Manila, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the two countries “were in touch on the issue” but the details were unclear because “we are still trying to ascertain and complete the facts of this incident.”
“What I’ve said earlier, we are still trying to complete our information Del Rosario told reporters.
Bernama said the Filipinos, who were wearing military fatigue uniforms, arrived in Lahad Datu on Tuesday and were isolated in a secluded area. Police officials said they have been told “to lay down their arms and surrender.”
Gulf News said the armed men belong to the “Royal Army of Sulu,” who were out to resurrect the Philippine’s claim over Sabah.”
“Unconfirmed reports from our sources said that a group who called themselves the Royal Army of Sulu Sultanate is behind the unauthorized armed presence,” Gulf News said.
In 1963, Sabah, which was leased by the Sulu Sultanate to the British since the 19th century, became part of the Federation of Malaysia. The Filipinos protested, claiming that Sabah was never sold to foreign interests.
The military declined to comment on the issue, but highly-placed sources said the men were believed to be the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu, who came from the islands of Basilan, Tawi-tawi and Sulu in Mindanao.
A military official, who asked not to be named, said the Filipinos were unarmed and they decided to sail to Sabah after a meeting in a schoolhouse in Tawi-Tawi because “Sabah belongs to us.”
“Ito iyong grupo na nagki-claim. Nagpulong-pulong sila para pag-usapan kung papaano nila i-continue iyung pag-claim sa Sabah. Tapos my mga followers sila na sinasabing kapag sumama kayo magkaroon kayo ng lupa sa Sabah, bigyan kayo ng lupa,” the official said.
In 1967, an attempt to land Filipino commandos, trained in Corregidor, on Sabah and invade Sabah under the “Operation Merdeka” was aborted after the supposed commandos were all but one killed. The lone survivor of the carnage, Jibin Arula, revealed what was eventually known as the Jabidah massacre.
Police Inspector-General Tan Sri Ismail Omar said police “formed the first circle to cordon the area, while military personnel made up the second circle.”
“In terms of strength, we have the upper hand in combat power to arrest them. But the government opts for negotiation to break the stalemate so that they leave peacefully to southern Philippines,” Omar said.
“But let the police negotiate with them and hopefully, it will bear fruit and succeed. This is because they cannot go anywhere, they have been surrounded. They have no choice and have to find a solution,” he said.
Lahad Datu is a town in Tawau Division, in the east of Sabah, eastern Malaysia on the island of Borneo. The town, which occupies the peninsula on the north side of Darvel Bay, has population of 156,059 based on the 2000 census.
Lahad Datu is home to Sabah’s population of Orang Bajau and other ethnic tribes, such as the Cocos Island Malays, who settled in the area in the 1950s when the Cocos Islands became part of Australia. Lahad Datu is known for its palm oil refineries.
Wire agency reports said the 100 armed men were believed to be from a breakaway rebel faction, citing “a high-ranking Malaysian government source.”
“We are dealing with 100 armed foreigners from the southern Philippines. The army and the police have cordoned off the place where these foreigners are waiting,” the source was quoted as saying.
He said the armed men were suspected to be from a faction unhappy with the Philippines recent peace deal with the main Muslim rebel group, referring to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The Philippine government signed a landmark peace deal with Muslim rebels late last year to end the 40-year conflict in the south, but some factions have voiced opposition.
“Since Malaysia brokered the deal, followers from the Misuari Breakaway Group have decided to stir up some trouble and create fireworks in Sabah,” the report quoted the Malaysian official as saying.
The Sulu Sultanate was once a powerful kingdom, stretching from Borneo, Southern Philippines to parts of the Visayas. During the height of its power during the 1700s, the Sultanate exercisec control over most of what is now known as Mindanao and eastern Malaysia.
Raja Muda Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram was proclaimed as the 35th Sultan of Sulu during ceremonies held in Maimbung, Jolo last September.
Security on Malaysia’s sea border with the Philippines has been problematic for Sabah, where tens of thousands of Filipinos have immigrated in the past few decades. With Florante Solmerin and Francisco Tuyay