Feb 28, 2013

DFA sends senior diplomat to Malaysia amid Sabah standoff

The Department of Foreign Affairs has sent a senior diplomat to Kuala Lumpur to help deal with the tense standoff between Malaysian forces and a group of Filipinos who were deployed by a royal Muslim clan to reclaim Malaysian-controlled Sabah.

Foreign Undersecretary for Special Concerns Jose Brillantes was dispatched to Malaysia on Monday “to help out in the coordination work with Malaysian authorities in order to bring this issue to a peaceful and expeditious conclusion,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told a press briefing Tuesday.

“Being a former ambassador to Malaysia, he [Brillantes] will have some contacts and he will be able to coordinate well with the Malaysian authorities to be able to achieve the objective of bringing our people back in to their respective homes in Mindanao,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez hinted that Brillantes may be sent to Lahad Datu off eastern Malaysia, where the group is holed out for more than two weeks and which had been cordoned off by Malaysian forces.

“Undersecretary Brillantes will be in Kuala Lumpur for now but he could be instructed to do other things,” he said.

Sultan of Sulu Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram sent around 180 of his followers, including women and 30 armed security escorts, on Feb. 12 to the resource-rich territory they claim as their own, creating a diplomatic crisis between the Philippines and Malaysia.

Sabah, located south of Mindanao, is territorially disputed by the Philippines and Malaysia. A Philippine claim for sovereignty over Sabah has lain dormant for decades, but Malaysia continues to pay a yearly rent to the heirs of Sultan of Sulu, who claim to be the descendants of the original Filipino sultan who had control over the territory for centuries.

Kiram’s followers are regarded as intruders by Malaysian authorities but extended thrice a deadline for them to leave peacefully.

PNoy' appeal

Earlier in the day, President Benigno Aquino III called on Kiram on national television to withdraw from the area to prevent an outbreak of violence as he warned of legal action against him, his followers and collaborators.

The crisis erupted at a time when the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are negotiating for a Malaysian-brokered peace deal aimed at ending decades of rebellion in strife-torn Mindanao.

Manila has put a naval vessel on standby off Sibutu Islands off Tawi-Tawi to pick up those Filipinos in the group who want to leave as negotiations with Malaysian authorities continue.

“We are hoping they would heed the advice of the President,” Hernandez said as he brushed off allegations by the Kiram family that the DFA neglected the Sabah territorial issue.

“The issue is still there. I cannot share with you what happened through the years but what I can say is that the DFA can not sleep over it and we have not neglected the issue,” he said.

Hernandez said the DFA does not formulate foreign policies but merely implements foreign policies set by higher authorities.

“The foreign policies are set by the architect of foreign policy which is the President,” he said. — Michaela del Callar/RSJ, GMA News


Post a Comment