Manila: A group of Filipinos claiming the state of Sabah has dug in and appear bent on staying in Malaysia despite warnings for them to vacate.
Reports from Malaysia said the armed group, which had earlier proclaimed themselves as the “Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu” has showed no plans to leave a coastal village in Lahad Datu where they arrived two weeks ago by boat.
Malaysian security forces had earlier given the group until Sunday afternoon to leave the area, a report published in Malaysia’s Star said.
Reports coming from Manila said the Philippine Navy had deployed at least six ships in the area between the country’s border with Malaysia as a precaution.
Manila had made it clear that it is not supporting the move by the Sulu Sultanate.
Reports said that the group in Lahad Datu had been living off the land and are surviving on eating root crops after their supplies ran out and was unable to get food from elsewhere due to a blockade being enforced by Malaysian authorities.
On Friday, the recognised Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram, appeared in a press briefing in Taguig City in Metro Manila with Celia, one of his wives, and said that they have taken the issue before the United Nations.
Kiram had said he and his men are ready to die for their claim to Sabah.
On the part of the presidential palace in Manila, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on Sunday that there are no reports of any “untoward incidents or confrontation” between Malaysian security forces and Kiram’s men in Lahad Datu which is being led by the Sultan’s nephew Raja Muda Azzumudie Kiram.
“So far it’s been quiet. We haven’t received any update,” she said.
Valte said the palace is hopeful that the stand-off in Sabah will be resolved soon, at least before the May elections, as the government continues to find ways to settle the issue without putting its good relations with the Malaysian government at risk.
Valte said the government has already formed a team to look at the historical and legal context of the Philippines’ claim on Sabah.
In an interview with government-run radio station dzRB, she said while the issue generated interest over what happened with the Philippines claim on Sabah, the Aquino administration has been working quietly with the Malaysian government and the Kiram family to resolve the standoff peacefully.
“As the President mentioned a few days ago, there is a team looking at the historical and legal context of the Sabah claim, and it will have to be dealt with separately at the proper time and under the correct conditions. I mean, in a way that it can uphold our national interest but also, on one hand, will not jeopardise the good relations that we have with our neighbour,” Valte explained.
Earlier, State Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Musa Aman, said negotiations are being held for a peaceful conclusion to the stand-off.
The Kiram family said they have legitimate to Sabah as proven to the annual rentals they have been receiving from Malaysia as lease for the land which size approximates that of France’s territory.