Report from The Phillipines Star and important points highlighted by Outsyed The Box is in red.
MANILA, Philippines - The more than 100 fully armed Filipinos holed up since Wednesday in a remote coastal town in Sabah were on a mission to press the claim of the Sultanate of Sulu on Sabah, an official of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said yesterday.
“They went there because they wanted to go back to their homeland Sabah, which is part of the Sultanate of Sulu,” said Habib Mujahab Hashim, MNLF central committee member and chairman of the Islamic Command Council.
“However, they were rounded up by the Malaysian security forces because close to 100 of them were armed,” Hashim said, citing reports he received from the field.
He said there were more than 200 Filipino Muslims involved in the standoff. He stressed the armed men were not detained but were merely invited for questioning.
He said the group was sent back to Tawi-Tawi “after hours of negotiation.” It was not clear as of press time if the group had indeed left the secluded coastal village of Lahad Datu some 500 kilometers from Kota Kinabalu.
A ranking military official said MNLF chairman Nur Misuari orchestrated the standoff to attract the attention of the Philippine government and the international community.
“It has something to do with Misuari’s continuing claim of Sabah being part of the Philippines. Misuari just wants to show off. The MNLF may have forged a peace agreement with the government but Misuari has not given up on his claim of Sabah,” the military official who declined to be named said. He said the so-called Royal Sultanate Army began to recruit members in the early 2000s.
“The following years they never gave the Philippine government any problem until this standoff in Sabah. The Royal Sulu Sultanate Army has been behaving well since then, until they went to Lahad Datu and declared they have the right to stay in Sabah,” the source said.
The source also linked the Sabah standoff to MNLF’s attacks on Abu Sayyaf strongholds in Patikul, Sulu.
“It was even what we call in the military an acoustic war as no bodies of the dead turned up but only sounds of weapons being fired,” The STAR source said.
He said Misuari attempted to seek refuge in Sabah after his men launched attacks in Zamboanga City.
“But always the Malaysian government turned him over to the Philippine government,” the source said. “That is why Misuari would always be bitter against Malaysia.”
Foreign affairs officials said they were informed by Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman yesterday morning of the ongoing negotiations with the armed men, who identified themselves as members of the “royal army” of the Sultanate of Sulu.
In a press briefing, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said they were still verifying information regarding the standoff. She said that contrary to allegations by Malaysian authorities, the Filipinos were not armed based on information from the Department of National Defense.
“We are trying to ascertain the facts that are attendant to the story. The Philippine embassy in Malaysia had already dispatched our police attaché to that particular area to see what’s happening and we continue to monitor the situation,” Valte said.
She also said the Philippine government is ready to extend whatever legal or humanitarian assistance those involved in the standoff might require.
“As a general rule, it is the duty of the government to help extend assistance to any Filipino abroad, wherever they may be. At this point, however, we would like to ascertain the facts first,” she said.