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article imageMalaysia bombs Sabah ‘royal army,’ escalation of conflict seen

By Antonio Figueroa     Mar 5, 2013 in World
Davao - DAVAO CITY – Despite the appeal of the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu to resolve peacefully their claims over Sabah (North Borneo), Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak approved the bombing of the claimants who are holed up in Lahad Datu.
Sabah, now part of Malaysia, became part of the sultanate in 1704 after the Sultan of Borneo gave the sprawling 73,631 sq. km. of oil-rich land as a reward for helping suppress a revolt.
Sulu, known for its boatbuilding tradition, was once the mightiest naval power in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific.
The territory was then leased to Austrian Baron de Overbeck in 1878 before the rent was transferred to British Alfred Dent, who established the British North Borneo Company, which oversaw the property.
Later, the lease was placed under the British government, which then controlled Malaysia.
On a monthly basis, the Malaysian embassy in Manila pays the sultanate heirs, through their lawyers, the amount of $5,000 Malaysian dollars as rent.
Even the United States recognized the authority of the sultanate when it signed the Kiram-Carpenter Agreement of March 22, 1915, which relinquished the sultan’s and his heirs’ right to temporal sovereignty, tax collection and arbitration laws to the US colonial government.
In the 1939 ruling written by Chief Justice C. F. C. Macaskie of the High Court of North Borneo, the tribunal identified the members of the Sulu royalty and nobility as the legally recognized heirs.
Oddly, in 1963, the United Nations (UN) acted suspiciously when it called a referendum among Sabah residents who were mostly Malaysian citizens by virtue of the independence granted to Malaysia on August 31, 1957. As expected, Malaysia won.
The Malaysian assault, which used airplanes and commando attacks, came on the heels of the warning of Nur Misuari, founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) based in Sulu, not to harm the followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
“I hope they will not harm them. They (the ‘royal army’) are our brothers. If one drop of their blood is spilled, we might be forced to come to their aid,” Misuari, whose wives are heirs to the disputed territory, said.
Ironically, in a bid to flush out the gritty royal army of Sulu, the Malaysian forces would be facing battle-tested, Malaysian-trained Muslim commanders of the MNLF, who know Sabah like the palm of their hands.
These MNLF mujahiddens, or warriors, have at their disposal a huge arsenal of arms, from Belgian-made G1 to FAL, hidden deep in Sabah’s rugged terrain, which they could easily retrieve if the conflict escalates into a full-blown war.
So far, according to reports, the skirmishes between the Sulu fighters and the Malaysian forces had resulted in the death of 11 royal soldiers, two Malaysian soldiers, and the arrest of five Malaysian troopers that are now in the custody of the claimants.
Despite the resistance shown by Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III to find peaceful and acceptable remedies that would end the conflict and to support the cause of the Sulu heirs, the number of high-profile supporting the cause of the sultanate to recover Sabah has risen.
Ironically, in all it statements, Aquino and some of his allies directly blamed the sultanate for the trouble even if it was the Sulu heir who first wrote the President in 2010 asking for the inclusion of the Sabah issue in the peace talks.
Among those who paid on the ailing Kiram at Astanah Kiram in Maharlika Village, Taguig City, were former Rep. Satur Ocampo and Carol Araullo, both Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), and Vice President Rafaelita Gonio of Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa).
But the disagreement, in recent days, has also turned into a major political issue in Malaysia at a time when national elections are coming.
The Utusan Malaysia, a daily published in Bahasa language, claimed that a “member of the Malaysian political opposition allied with Anwar Ibrahim” had met with Jamalul with the promise to support the claim.
But Anwar, head of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the voice of opposition in Malaysia, called the yarn “high irresponsible statements,” adding that he was asking his lawyers to study the possibility of filing appropriate charges against two media agencies that carried the story.
For his part, Tian Chua, PKR vice president, told Malaysian TV3, in the program “Buletin Utama,” called the involvement of the opposition in the Lahad Datu issue as a political play of the ruling party, the UMNO.
Tian said the malicious story was a “planned conspiracy of the UMNO government to divert attention and intimidate the people,” especially in Sabah, where the opposition is gaining strength in recent years.
To resolve the issue, Sultan Kiram had already sought the help of the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) to send a humanitarian mission to Lahad Datu to ensure that the members of the royal army, mostly belonging to the fierce Tausog tribe of Mindanao, have not been deprived of food.
The sultanate has also aired its position to bring the Sabah claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), given the passivity of the Philippine government to its cause, where it is optimistic the issue would be resolved.
More about Sabah claim, Jamalulu Kiram III, sultanate of sulu
 
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