Fighting erupts anew in Lahad Datu

Mike Frialde - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Fighting broke out again between Malaysian security forces and members of the Sulu sultanate’s security force in Lahad Datu over the weekend, Abraham Idjirani, the sultanate’s spokesman, said yesterday.

Idjirani said Malaysian security forces attacked the encampment of the sultanate’s forces led by Agbimuddin Kiram in Tanjung Batu Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.

“According to (Agbimuddin) no one among them was hurt. The Malaysians were the ones who attacked,” Idjirani said.

He said Agbimuddin also reported the presence of Indonesian military observers in Lahad Datu on Saturday.

Agbimuddin informed Idjirani in a phone call that Indonesian observers took photographs and measurements of the craters left by bombs dropped by Malaysian planes in the villages of Tanduo and Kampung Tanjung Batu in Lahad Datu.

“It could be because of Indonesia’s presence in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Indonesia could now be pressuring Malaysia to end the standoff,” Idjirani said.

Idjirani said sultanate forces under Agbimuddin have increased from 135 to 500 with the arrival of fighters from Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi.

“The augmentation force is almost 85 percent armed,” Idjirani said.

Hundreds of armed members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have also landed in Sabah over the past several days.

“Malaysia is now up against a prolonged war in Sabah. They can’t contain the MNLF fighters and Malaysia will suffer the same fate as the Marcos regime in the Mindanao war,” MNLF political bureau chief Haji Gapul Hajirul said.

PAO seeks lower bail

As this developed, the Public Attorney’s Office said it would ask the Tawi-Tawi Regional Trial Court (RTC) to further reduce the bail for 38 members of the sultanate forces arrested by the Philippine Navy.

In its ruling yesterday, Tawi-Tawi RTC Branch 5 reduced by half the P6.2-million bail it set.

PAO chief Persida Acosta told The STAR that the families of those arrested only raised P9,000 each or a total of P342,000.

“They do not have money. Their families were just able to raise that much,” said Acosta.

Acosta said they would ask Tawi-Tawi RTC Branch 5 Judge Peter Ihisma to lower the bail to P9,000 each on humanitarian grounds. She noted that two of those arrested were 70 years old.

Acosta said they see the lowering of the initial P6.2-million bail to P3.1 million as a positive development.

The Department of Justice filed charges of illegal possession of firearms, violation of the election gun ban and inciting to war against the 38 fighters. They were detained at the Philippine Navy’s station in Panglima Sugala in Tawi-Tawi.

Former Tarlac governor and opposition Senate bet Margarita Cojuangco earlier pledged to raise P500,000 for their legal defense.

Rice for Sabah crisis victims

Meanwhile, the National Food Authority (NFA) said the agency has released 99,500 bags of rice for distribution to those affected by the crisis in Sabah since April 5.

NFA administrator Orlan Calayag said the crisis management committee called “Oplan Tabang Basulta” is handling the distribution of rice. Basulta stands for the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Calayag said NFA would continue to ship rice to the three provinces to ensure that there is enough supply and prices remain stable.

He said NFA warehouses in Davao, Zamboanga and even Metro Manila are ready to ship additional rice to the three provinces when needed.

Calayag said rice prices slightly increased at the height of the crisis but have since stabilized. He said market prices have settled to P750 from P780 per 25 kilograms of well-milled rice and P950 from P1,030 per 25 kgs for special varieties. – With Jaime Laude



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