No Sabah solution ahead of ASEAN Summit

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Sabah-SuluAhead of the ASEAN Summit being held in Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan on April 24 and 25, conflicting reports continue to emerge from the battered state of Sabah. By boldly resounding a call to arms, the Sultanate of Sulu, despite Malaysia’s attempts to dispel rumours, has become an unwanted wild card to political and economic stability at a time when the Philippines and Malaysia are amidst major election campaigns.

On April 9, Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, told Philippine media that at least 400 Sulu “volunteers” had arrived from Mindanao in the country’s south to Sabah, one set on March 20 and another on April 5. This claim was then quickly dispelled by Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib, who told Bernama the following day that residents of Sabah should not believe such reports and that “business was as usual in Lahad Datu.”

The most worrying part of this analysis is that Malaysian security forces have admitted to encountering difficulty discerning Sulu fighters from locals residing peacefully in Sabah, a state that has many ethnic Filipinos. Lacking any other tool besides racial profiling, Malaysian security forces have taken to hauling away an unconfirmed amount of Filipinos for questioning.

Idjirani pressed further on April 22, announcing that over 1,000 fighters from Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi had joined the Sultanate’s Royal Security Force on Sabah, evading military blockades and supplying much needed reinforcements to the purportedly 400-strong group already entrenched somewhere around Lahad Datu, led by Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the younger brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

The announcement to Philippine media of the new deployment came after a “celebration” rally was held in Jolo, a central outpost of breakaway rebel groups in the Philippines’ southern Sulu archipelago.

On a phone interview with Inside Investor, Idjirani, who was on Jolo with Yusop Jikiri, the Moro National Liberation Front’s (MNLF) chief of staff, said the gathering on April 21 attracted “thousands” of supporters to celebrate the “legitimacy of the Sultan of Sulu’s rights over Sabah.”

The apparent communion between the MNLF and the Sultanate could give some support to the claims of reinforcements, while at the same time marking a clear alliance in what is manifesting as a united claim for the rebels of Jolo, where the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group also operates.

When asked if the 1,000-strong group of reinforcements were from MNLF, Idjirani told Philippine media: “We don’t know if they are MNLF but most of the fighters that arrive in Sabah usually change their identities. They’re no longer MNLF or MILF.”

The barbed claims to manpower don’t end here. The Sulu spokesperson told Inside Investor on April 19 that “thousands” of more “volunteers” for the Sultanate’s army are in the outskirts of Lahad Datu and northern Sabah, “They are there because of the non-stop rounding up of Filipinos by the Malaysian military,” the spokesperson said.

Whether fictional or factual, these “volunteers” are a thorny reminder that troubles are far from over in Sabah, where investment has already taken a hit in Tawau Division.

Inside Investor asked the Sulu spokesperson what plans the Sultanate would have to return normalcy to the business environment in the contested state, who said in response that the matter was Malaysia’s responsibility, pointing to a “disrupted” accord from 1963.

Sabah, once a part of the now-dismantled Sultanate of Sulu, which covered the Sulu archipelago, slices of Mindanao and the shoe horn-like island of Palawan, only became the target of “invasion” in February. Conspiracy theories still fly of just how the far-flung group of outcasts managed to arm themselves.

“The Sultanate is now focusing on soliciting Indonesians, not only locals but also internationals, to provide the monetary and physical needs of the Royal Army of the Sultanate,” Idjirani warned.

The united forces of Sulu clearly have no intention of letting their claims disappear into abeyance, adding many unanswered questions for two ASEAN nations equally determined to shelve the issue at the ASEAN Summit. Just how jarring this wild card can be will undoubtedly be on the table and in the back of the minds of the ASEAN leaders.

 

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Ahead of the ASEAN Summit being held in Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan on April 24 and 25, conflicting reports continue to emerge from the battered state of Sabah. By boldly resounding a call to arms, the Sultanate of Sulu, despite Malaysia’s attempts to dispel rumours, has become an unwanted wild card to political and economic stability at a time when the Philippines and Malaysia are amidst major election campaigns.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sabah-SuluAhead of the ASEAN Summit being held in Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan on April 24 and 25, conflicting reports continue to emerge from the battered state of Sabah. By boldly resounding a call to arms, the Sultanate of Sulu, despite Malaysia’s attempts to dispel rumours, has become an unwanted wild card to political and economic stability at a time when the Philippines and Malaysia are amidst major election campaigns.

On April 9, Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, told Philippine media that at least 400 Sulu “volunteers” had arrived from Mindanao in the country’s south to Sabah, one set on March 20 and another on April 5. This claim was then quickly dispelled by Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib, who told Bernama the following day that residents of Sabah should not believe such reports and that “business was as usual in Lahad Datu.”

The most worrying part of this analysis is that Malaysian security forces have admitted to encountering difficulty discerning Sulu fighters from locals residing peacefully in Sabah, a state that has many ethnic Filipinos. Lacking any other tool besides racial profiling, Malaysian security forces have taken to hauling away an unconfirmed amount of Filipinos for questioning.

Idjirani pressed further on April 22, announcing that over 1,000 fighters from Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi had joined the Sultanate’s Royal Security Force on Sabah, evading military blockades and supplying much needed reinforcements to the purportedly 400-strong group already entrenched somewhere around Lahad Datu, led by Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the younger brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

The announcement to Philippine media of the new deployment came after a “celebration” rally was held in Jolo, a central outpost of breakaway rebel groups in the Philippines’ southern Sulu archipelago.

On a phone interview with Inside Investor, Idjirani, who was on Jolo with Yusop Jikiri, the Moro National Liberation Front’s (MNLF) chief of staff, said the gathering on April 21 attracted “thousands” of supporters to celebrate the “legitimacy of the Sultan of Sulu’s rights over Sabah.”

The apparent communion between the MNLF and the Sultanate could give some support to the claims of reinforcements, while at the same time marking a clear alliance in what is manifesting as a united claim for the rebels of Jolo, where the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group also operates.

When asked if the 1,000-strong group of reinforcements were from MNLF, Idjirani told Philippine media: “We don’t know if they are MNLF but most of the fighters that arrive in Sabah usually change their identities. They’re no longer MNLF or MILF.”

The barbed claims to manpower don’t end here. The Sulu spokesperson told Inside Investor on April 19 that “thousands” of more “volunteers” for the Sultanate’s army are in the outskirts of Lahad Datu and northern Sabah, “They are there because of the non-stop rounding up of Filipinos by the Malaysian military,” the spokesperson said.

Whether fictional or factual, these “volunteers” are a thorny reminder that troubles are far from over in Sabah, where investment has already taken a hit in Tawau Division.

Inside Investor asked the Sulu spokesperson what plans the Sultanate would have to return normalcy to the business environment in the contested state, who said in response that the matter was Malaysia’s responsibility, pointing to a “disrupted” accord from 1963.

Sabah, once a part of the now-dismantled Sultanate of Sulu, which covered the Sulu archipelago, slices of Mindanao and the shoe horn-like island of Palawan, only became the target of “invasion” in February. Conspiracy theories still fly of just how the far-flung group of outcasts managed to arm themselves.

“The Sultanate is now focusing on soliciting Indonesians, not only locals but also internationals, to provide the monetary and physical needs of the Royal Army of the Sultanate,” Idjirani warned.

The united forces of Sulu clearly have no intention of letting their claims disappear into abeyance, adding many unanswered questions for two ASEAN nations equally determined to shelve the issue at the ASEAN Summit. Just how jarring this wild card can be will undoubtedly be on the table and in the back of the minds of the ASEAN leaders.

 

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