Sunday, 24 February 2013

Filipinos’ Sulu militant group in Sabah must leave Malaysia today

Muslims at the Golden Mosque in Quiapo district of Manila on Saturday express their support to Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and followers who are Sabah in press for their claim. DANNY PATA

LAHAD DATU: Malaysia has extended the deadline for the Sulu armed group to move out of Tanduo village and return home to today, following a request from the Philippines.

The Philippine Government had earlier asked for the deadline to be set for Tuesday to allow them to persuade Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to order his brother Azzimudie Kiram and the armed group of more than 100 to get out of Tanduo village in Felda Sahabat 17 where they have been holed up since Feb 9.

The request was made to Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman by his Philippine counterpart Albert del Rosario after the expiry of the Friday deadline.

Anifah, however, told The Star that he had conveyed the decision on the new Sunday deadline to Rosario.

“We are hoping the stand-off will end peacefully with the latest deadline,” he said, echoing Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein's statement that he wanted the two-week stand-off to “end sooner than later” without bloodshed.

Hishammuddin told reporters in Kluang that the extended period would not be too long as his ministry would leave it to the security forces to conduct an operation to end the stand-off.

He said the Tanduo incident was different from the country's past experience with armed groups such as Al-Maunah, Abu Sayyaf and Jemayah Islamiah as this group claimed to be descendents of the Sulu sultanate.

However, he said the country's sovereignty and the pride of the Sabah people must not be taken for granted.

The priority of the armed forces was to defuse the situation without bloodshed as it could affect Malaysia's good relationship with the Philippines, he said, adding that the preparation for the deportation of the Sulu group “is in the final stage”.

As the Philippine Government tries to persuade the Sulu Sultan to take their Sabah claim demand to a diplomatic level, the Kiram family has been adamant and had asked Azzimudie's group to stay put in Tanduo.

Although emissaries have been negotiating with Azzimudie, the political pressure in Manila has been mounting on President Benigno Aquino and his Cabinet to resurrect the long dormant Sabah claim following talk that the Oct 15 peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front had left out the Sulu sultanate as well as Nur Misuari's Moro National Liberation Front.

To help defuse and bring the stand-off to a peaceful conclusion, Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said he and his Malaysian counterpart, including the armed forces of both countries, were closely coordinating their actions and exchanging information.

Gazmin said the Philippine military had enforced a naval blockade in the Sulu Sea to prevent undocumented Filipinos from entering Sabah as reports emerged that other groups from southern Philippines were poised to help Azzimudie's gunmen.

Stating that the Sulu group was pursuing its Sabah claim the wrong way, Gazmin revealed that six navy ships and a transport vessel were on standby in Tawi Tawi, about a 15-minute fast boat ride to Tanduo village.

By P.K. KATHARASON, MUGUNTAN VANAR and MOHD FARHAAN SHAH The Star/Asia News Network

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