(UPDATE) Aquino urges Sulu Sultan to recall his followers in Sabah

(The Philippine Star) - February 26, 2013 - 11:00pm

MANILA, Philippines (Xinhua) - President Benigno Aquino III today urged Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to recall his followers in Sabah, Malaysia, and to hold dialogue with the government to address his family's concerns.

Kiram's family has been pursuing its claim to the resource-rich state by sending about 180 followers, about 30 of them armed, to Sabah on Feb. 12.

Aquino issued a statement on the national television as he warned Kiram that an investigation has been ongoing on the possible violations that he committed for sending people to Sabah.

"The avenue of peaceful and open dialogue is still available to us. Let us therefore sit down as brothers to address your grievances in a peaceful, calm manner according to our laws and according to correct processes when your people arrive home," he said.

"It must be clear to you that this small group of people will not succeed in addressing your grievances, and that there is no way that force can achieve your aims," the president said.

Aquino said that as a leader of his clan, Kiram should seek the well-being of his constituents. He said the Sultan should use his influence to prevail on his followers to desist "this hopeless cause."  

Aquino cited the possible effects on the livelihood on the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos living in southern Philippine provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi who traded with Sabah if Kiram's followers continue to stay in Lahad Datu.

"This is a situation that cannot persist. If you are truly the leader of your people, you should be one with us in ordering your followers to return home peacefully," he said.

"What is clear is that a peaceful resolution of this issue is to everybody's interest. Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that there are legitimate grievances, the presence of an armed group in Lahad Datu will only bring us further away from resolving these issues."

Aquino said the ball is now on Kiram's hand.

"The choices and consequences are yours. If you choose not to cooperate, the full force of the laws of the state will be used to achieve justice for all who have been put in harm's way," he warned.

When asked whether there is a deadline as to when the Filipinos in Sabah should come back at a media interview, Aquino said, "I think deadlines have been thrown left and right. I think they are aware of the situation that is unfolding."  


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