Hopes run high Sabah drama over in 48 hours


“We didn’t come here to make war or make trouble for the authorities or anybody here. We just want to live in our place. This place belongs to us,” he added. “If we will return home, then we will go back to zero. And we pity the Muslim and Christian Filipinos who will be left behind. We know what the Malaysian police may do to them.” 

Tarra Quismundo, Philippine Daily Inquirer

The standoff between Malaysian security forces and an armed group of followers of the sultan of Sulu entered a third week on Monday with hopes running high that the drama would end within the next 48 hours.

The Malaysian government extended the deadline for the armed group to leave the village of Tanduao in Lahad Datu town by another 48 hours to allow time for talks between emissaries of the Philippine government and the family of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III for the recall of the so-called Royal Armed Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo.

The first 48-hour extension of the Feb. 22 deadline expired on Sunday as the Philippine government sent a Navy ship to pick up the women and children among Jamalul’s followers to get them out of harm’s way in the event the Malaysian forces were forced to storm the Filipinos’ camp.

A statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the ship was leaving for Sabah from Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, on Sunday night.

But the DFA said Monday the ship was still in Tawi-Tawi, awaiting diplomatic clearance to enter Malaysian waters and be on standby off Lahad Datu to receive the noncombatants from the armed group led by Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of Jamalul, who ordered the intrusion into Sabah to press his clan’s claim to the territory.

“We have learned that [Malaysian forces] have surrounded the area. So what we want to happen is [for] this group to now decide to leave the area for safety and get on board our humanitarian ship,” said DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez.

“We don’t want them to get hurt, to think of resorting to violence or whatever. That’s why we sent a ship there. It’s ready to go to the border when we have people who are ready to be moved and fetched,” he said.

The plan

The plan is to send the ship to Sabah once Jamalul’s followers heed the government’s appeal for them to come out and return home.

Malaysian vessels will ferry them to the border and transfer them to the Philippine ship, Hernandez said.

“Hopefully, before Tuesday, they will already be on board our ship,” he added.

“The ship will stay there as long as it is needed, as long as the offer to take care of them is there. It’s a humanitarian mission,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters in Malacañang.

Aside from carrying food supplies, the ship is also equipped to treat injured people.

Earlier reports said the ship would also pick up members of Agbimuddin’s group who would choose to leave, but Lacierda said he hoped the women would urge the rest “to come home.”

Another vessel had reportedly left Sulu early Monday for Sabah.

Philippine officials said the ship was transporting a member of the Sulu sultan’s family accompanied by certain government officials.

Tawi-Tawi Gov. Sadikul Sahali told reporters that he knew about the vessel from Sulu but did not disclose who was on board.

Read more at: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/65613/hopes-run-high-sabah-drama-over-in-48-hours