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Stand-off between Philippine government and followers of Sultan of Sulu

Clash over a Filipino-Muslim family’s claims over the territory dates back to the 17th century

Gulf News

Manila: A stand-off has occurred between Philippine government officials and followers of Sultan of Sulu who raided Sabah last week to pursue a Filipino-Muslim family’s claims over the territory which dates back to the 17th century.

“We are endeavouring to have the group [of Sultan Jamalul Kiram] leave Lahad Datu [in Sabah] peacefully and this remains to be a work in progress in coordination with the Malaysian government. We want this issue to be settled in a peaceful manner,” said Raul Hernandez, assistant secretary and spokesman of Manila’s foreign affairs department.

“What is important for now is for them to leave that area because this could affect existing issues we have including peace talks [between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation front or MILF which is brokered by Malaysia] and possible bilateral relations [between the Philippines and Malaysia, which are both members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or Asean],” said Hernandez.

Earlier, Kiram confirmed that he approved the sending of 400 (not 300) Filipino-Muslims, including 20 armed men, to Lahad Datu district last week, to enforce his family’s ancestral ownership over the area.

At the same time, spokesperson Abigail Valte denied reports that President Benigno Aquino met with Kiram on Monday, following the latter’s press conference in Metro Manila’s suburban area on Sunday.

No one was sent as a secret emissary to arrange the meeting on Monday, said Valte.

The Philippine government is after their safety in Sabah, said Valte. Earlier, the presidential palace insisted that the Filipino-Muslim raiders would be deported from Lahad Datu.

Explaining the Philippine government’s predicament, Valte said, “The incident [in Sabah] is very sensitive. We are withholding comment and deferring to the DFA [department of foreign affairs] just to apprise the public on any developments [on the incident].”

Meanwhile, members of the Royal Guard of the Sultanate of Sulu, have been in a stand-off with Malaysian forces in Lahad Datu.

The plan is to stay as permanent residents there. That’s the agenda of the Sultan of Sulu’s brother Raja Muda Abimuddin Kiram, who led the group in Lahad Datu, said Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of the Sultan of Sulu.

In reaction, Kiram, the Sultan of Sulu, also said in Manila, “Why should we leave our own home? In fact they [the Malaysians] are paying rent [to us Kiram family]. Our followers will stay in Lahad Datu. Nobody will be sent to the Philippines. Sabah is our home. There will be no turning back for us.”

Noting another source of resentment, Kiram said the Sultanate of Sulu was not included by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) when the forged a framework agreement to result in a political settlement, for Filipino Muslims in the south, last October.

In 1658, the Sultan of Brunei ceded the eastern part of Sabah to the Sultan of Sulu, for the latter’s assistance in quelling enemies there. At the time, the Sultan of Brunei and Sultan of Sulu were owners of Sabah.

In 1761, an officer of the British East India Company forged a lease agreement with the Sultan of Sulu, for the establishment of a trading post in the region. This payment to the family members of Sultan of Sulu has been ongoing.

In 1846, the Sultan of Brunei ceded Labuan island to Britain, paving the way for it to become a British Crown colony in 1848.

The British colonials ceded North Borneo when Sabah merged with Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore to form the Federation of Malaysia.

In 1965, former Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal renewed the claim of the Philippine government to Sabah, following complaints from the family members of the Sultanate of Sulu.

In the 70s, this claim was not enforced because of Asean’s formation, and Malaysia’s assistance to secessionists Filipino-Muslims in the south. At this time, members of the Sultanate of Sulu said they would pursue their claim over a portion of Sabah since the government has given it up.