Malaysia urged: Don’t harm men of sultan
Roel Pareño, Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - With Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of the Sultanate of Sulu declaring his followers’ determination to stay in Sabah, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is appealing to Malaysian authorities not to harm them, much less drive them away from the territory.

“We are closely following the situation in Sabah and we are appealing to our fellow Malaysian Muslim brothers not to harm the sultan’s followers,” MNLF central committee political director Haji Gapul
Hajirul told The STAR yesterday.

Hajirul belied reports, quoting acting Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARRM) Gov. Mujiv Hataman, that a group of Muslims had agreed to leave Sabah and was expected to arrive in Tawi-Tawi on a commercial vessel last night. The group would supposedly be transported by a Navy vessel back to Sulu.

Those returning to Tawi-Tawi, according to Hajirul, could be ordinary civilians rounded up by Malaysian authorities in Sabah and are not the followers of the sultan.

“Hataman is a Yakan from Basilan and he knows nothing on what is happening right now in Sabah,” Hajirul said.

“We also have our own people in Sabah as we appeal that they (Malaysians) must not harm our Tausog brothers,” he added.

The MNLF, while voicing full support for the Sulu Sultanate’s bid to reclaim Sabah, said all it could do was sympathize with the followers of the sultanate.

Holed up in the remote coastal town of Lahad Datu since last week, some 200 to 400 followers of the Sultan of Sulu have vowed not to leave, saying they are reclaiming the area as their ancestral territory.

“Why should we leave our own home? In fact (the Malaysians) are paying rent (to us),” Kiram said earlier, adding he would not allow any of his followers to be forcibly sent back to Tawi-Tawi.

Before the situation gets out of hand, Hajirul said the Philippine government must take an active role in peacefully resolving the standoff.

In Zamboanga City, the secretary-general of the sultanate said the followers of the sultan are doing well and are as resolved as ever to stay in Sabah.

Abraham Idjirani said they communicated with the group Tuesday afternoon and received good feedback. “They have not been moved or harmed by the Malaysian security forces,” he said.

Idjirani said that while the sultan had no plan to pull out his followers, “there is no intention of sending additional people to assert our rights.”

“In the meantime, we will prove to them that the intention in coming there is to bring peace,” Idjirani said. “Sending additional people will give a different meaning.”

The sultanate secretary-general said they do not want the Malaysian government to think they are preparing to create trouble by engaging security forces in a standoff in Lahad Datu, 500 kilometers from Kota Kinabalu.

He said Sultan Kiram had even prevented thousands of his followers in Sulu from proceeding to Sabah in a show of force.

He said many of the sultanate’s followers in Palawan wanted to follow Raja Muda Abimuddin Kiram, brother of Sultan Kiram, who led the sultanate followers in Lahad Datu.

“The Sultan prevented the influx of thousands of our followers because we want to show our means is not to wage war but to show peace and understanding because we have a stake to claim,” Idjirani added.

Idjirani earlier said that they decided to revive their Sabah claim after the issue was placed on the backburner following the signing of the framework agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last October.

Malaysia is the facilitator of the peace talks between the government and MILF.

The Philippines started its claim over Sabah in 1962 after the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo gave the government the legal authority to negotiate on their behalf.

The Sultanate of Sulu obtained Sabah from the Sultanate of Brunei as a gift for helping put down a rebellion. The Sulu Sultanate leased Sabah to the British North Borneo Co. in 1878.

The British, however, included Sabah in the territories it handed back to Malaysia after the latter gained independence in 1963. From then on Kuala Lumpur pays an annual rent of 5,300 ringgit ($1,600) to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu.

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