Monday, February 25, 2013

22. DFA seeks another extension for Sulu army to leave Sabah

DFA seeks another extension for Sulu army to leave Sabah

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Jamalul Kiram, the sultan of Sulu province on Friday, tells reporters that his followers now in Sabah will not go back to the Philippines despite repeated requests by the Malaysian government. ‘Why should they when they consider Sabah their home?’ asked Kiram.  
photo by Rene Dilan

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario asked the Malaysian government to extend until February 26 the deadline for the royal army of Sulu sultanate to leave Sabah, it was learned on Friday.

“[I] have requested [an] extension of deadline to Tuesday from the [Malaysian foreign minister] in view of [the] work still in progress,” he stated in a text message.

Del Rosario said that he will have to wait for a response from the Malaysian government and reiterated that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) earlier call for the armed group to leave the town of Lahad Datu in Sabah “as early as possible.”

“We are urging the group to peacefully withdraw . . . we are doing this in cooperation with the Malaysian government. If we need more time, we will endeavor to seek another extension,” del Rosario added.

Early this week, reports came out that the Malaysian government would no longer negotiate with the Philippine government nor with the royal army of Sulu sultanate that arrived in Sabah over a week ago, to claim in what they refer to as their “ancestral homeland.”

Some 200 followers of Sulu sultan Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram arrived in Malaysia-controlled Sabah to lay claim on the island.

Amicable settlement
Meanwhile, Philippine defense and military officials are burning the communication line with their Malaysian counterparts to help purge an amicable settlement in the Sabah standoff without a single shot fired.

“Right now, General Emmanuel Bautista, [Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff], is talking with General Tan
Sri Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, the chief of defense force, [while] I’m in touch with [Dr. Ahmad Bin] Hamidi, defense minister, and we are agreeable that this should be solved amicable, peacefully without any violence whatsoever,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Friday.

Gazmin said that the two military chiefs are also closely coordinating and having a continuous exchange of information in securing the porous border between Min­danao and Sabah.

The Philippine Navy has deployed six ships and an islander plane in the vast Sulu Sea, particularly in the vicinity of the provinces of Tawi-Tawi, Basilan and Sulu to prevent other Tausog warriors, supporters and relatives of the sultan of Sulu from crossing over to Saba.

The Malaysian Navy has done the same.

Sabah is a contested territory of the Philippines and Malaysia albeit Manila’s claim on it that remained dormant for years.

Sabah was believed to had been leased to the British North Borneo Co. by the sultanate of Sulu in the late 1800s, but Great Britain officially transferred the island to Malaysia in 1963.

The sultanate of Sulu claims that the transfer was a violation of the leasing agreement. Moreover, although Kuala Lumpur maintains its ownership of the island, its embassy in Manila reportedly continues to pay the heirs of the sultan of Sulu P70,000 yearly.

MalacaƱang on Friday vowed to uphold the Philippines’ interest in its claims to Sabah.

“From the beginning of this incident the administration has been working quietly with the Malaysian government and the Kiram family to peacefully resolve this stand off,” Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said.

Valte also reiterated President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s position that “there is a team looking at the historical and legal context of the Sabah claim and this will be dealt with at the proper time . . . under the correct conditions, in a way that upholds the national interest and does not jeopardize relationship with [Malaysia].”

With reports from William B. Depasupil and Catherine S. Valente

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