Feb 25, 2013

Rosario seeks extension for Sulu army’s exit from Sabah

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has asked the Malaysian government to extend until February 26 the deadline for the royal army of Sulu sultanate to leave Sabah, it has been learned.

A Filipino soldier stands guard on the deck of a seacraft as it patrols the port of Jolo, Sulu province in southern Philippines yesterday, after tighter security was imposed in the area.
“(I) have requested (an) extension of the deadline to Tuesday from the (Malaysian foreign minister) in view of (the) work still in progress,” he said in a text message.

Del Rosario said that he will have to wait for a response from the Malaysian government and reiterated the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) earlier call to the armed group to leave the town of Lahad Datu in Sabah “as early as possible.”

“We are urging the group to peacefully withdraw . . . we are doing this in cooperation with the Malaysian government. If we need more time, we will endeavor to seek another extension,” del Rosario added.

Early this week, reports emerged that the Malaysian government would no longer negotiate with the Philippine government nor with the royal army of Sulu sultanate that arrived in Sabah over a week ago, to claim in what they refer to as their “ancestral homeland.”

Some 200 followers of Sulu sultan Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram arrived in Malaysia-controlled Sabah to lay claim on the island.

Meanwhile, Philippine defence and military officials are working overtime with their Malaysian counterparts to help reach an amicable settlement in the Sabah standoff without a single shot being fired.

“Right now, General Emmanuel Bautista (Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff), is talking with General Tan Sri Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, the chief of defence force, (while) I’m in touch with (Dr Ahmad Bin) Hamidi, defence minister, and we have agreed that this should be solved amicably and peacefully without any violence whatsoever,” Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.

Gazmin said that the two military chiefs are also closely coordinating and having a continuous exchange of information in securing the porous border between Mindanao and Sabah.The Philippine Navy has deployed six ships and an islander plane in the vast Sulu Sea, particularly in the vicinity of the provinces of Tawi-Tawi, Basilan and Sulu to prevent other Tausog warriors, supporters and relatives of the sultan of Sulu from crossing over to Sabah. The Malaysian Navy has also done the same.

Sabah is a contested territory of the Philippines and Malaysia, though Manila’s claim to it has remained dormant for years.Sabah was believed to have been leased to the British North Borneo Co by the sultanate of Sulu in the late 1800s, but Great Britain officially transferred the island to Malaysia in 1963.

The sultanate of Sulu claims that the transfer was a violation of the leasing agreement. Moreover, although Kuala Lumpur maintains its ownership of the island, its embassy in Manila reportedly continues to pay the heirs of the sultan of Sulu 70,000 pesos yearly.

Malacañang has vowed to uphold the Philippines’ interest in its claims to Sabah.

“From the beginning of this incident the administration has been working quietly with the Malaysian government and the Kiram family to peacefully resolve this standoff,” Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said.

Valte also reiterated President Benigno Aquino’s position that “there is a team looking at the historical and legal context of the Sabah claim and that this would be dealt with at the proper time . . . under the correct conditions, in a way that upholds the national interests and does not jeopardise the relationship with (Malaysia).” - source


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