'1,000 more MNLF fighters slip into Sabah'

Mike Frialde - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - An official of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) claimed on Friday that at least 1,000 volunteer fighters of their group have managed to pass through the naval blockades of the Philippine and Malaysian navies and are now in Lahad Datu, Sabah, to reinforce the fighters of the Sultanate of Sulu’s Royal Security Force (RSF) led by Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram.

“As of today, more than 1000 have slipped though and have reinforced the [group of] Raja Muda in Sabah,” Hajib Mujaha Hashim, chairman of the MNLF’s Islamic Command Council told the Star from Jolo.

“All of the fighters here in Jolo are MNLF but they are there not as MNLF but as volunteers from Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga Peninsula,” Hashim added in Filipino.

Hashim said the RSF could use the reinforcement as it has begun a guerilla campaign against the Malaysian security forces actively pursuing them.

“They (reinforcement) are experienced in guerilla warfare. They are there not officially as MNLF but we could not prevent MNLF forces from going there and reinforcing the royal army of the Sultanate of Sulu in the area,” he said.

Hashim said that although the aerial bombardment on the RSF positions have stopped, the tempo of the Malaysian military’s operation has not slowed down.

“The level of the military operations (against the RSF) has not weakened. The mass arrests and deportations (of Filipinos in Sabah) continue. This is still bothering. Although there are no more aerial bombings, the pursuit operations continue,” he said.

Hashim also would not confirm or deny reports of the RSF using former MNLF guerilla bases in Lahad Datu and in nearby areas as hideouts.

“We could not conform or deny that at this point in time,” he said.

Food from supporters

Hashim also would not confirm if civilians in the conflict affected areas of Sabah who are supportive of the RSF have also taken-up arms and have joined the fight.

“It is confidential. But they (RSF) are getting more support. Supporters are now giving them food. They are better now but they are sill on the run. But now that volunteer fighters are joining them, they have already managed to have a controlled area in that part of Sabah. More volunteers would come as they have their own ways of crossing the blockades,” he said.

Hashim said the RSF force have broken up into smaller groups but are still present in Lahad Datu and in the nearby areas.

“They have spread out into smaller groups. They have adopted guerilla tactics,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hashim again appealed to Malaysia to consider talking with the Sultanate of Sulu and end the stand-off which began last February.

“This is already taking too long. That is why we have indicated our intention, through the Royal Council of Sharifs of the Sultanate of Sulu to convince Malaysia to talk. It is very advantageous for Malaysia to sit down and resolve this Sabah standoff and the Sabah claim. It is for the interest of Malaysia and the Sultanate of Sulu if they could finally resolve the Sabah issue,” he said.

Hashim said the Royal Council of Sharifs of the Sultanate of Sulu which he also heads, is now talking with Malaysia informally to convince it to consider negotiating with the Sultanate of Suliu on the Sabah issue.

“We are trying all avenues both officially and unofficially. We are exhausting all possibilities short of starting a war between the Sultanate of Sulu and Malaysia. All Muslims are brothers. This has to be resolved in the Islamic way of  resolving conflicts and that has to be with peaceful negotiation,” he said.

Hashim added that they would also be seeking the possible mediation of the Organization of the Islamic Conference should Malaysia finally agree to sit down with the Sulu Sultanate and discuss the Sabah issue and the sultanate’s claim over the territory.

“It would be be better if there will be a third party involved like the Organization of the Islamic Conference.  But on our own, we are talking to them (Malaysia) unofficially and we hope that they would listen. I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel if they would just be willing to sit down and talk about ending the Sabah standoff,” he said.











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