Malaysia asked to extend Sabah deadline to Tuesday-A A +A
Saturday, February 23, 2013
MANILA -– The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) asked Malaysia on Friday to extend until Tuesday, February 26, the deadline it gave to a group of armed Filipinos holed up in a village in Sabah to withdraw peacefully.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he conveyed this to his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, Friday morning.
The Philippine government is continuing efforts to persuade the followers of Sultan of Sulu Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, engaged in a nearly two-week standoff with Malaysian forces, to leave Sabah without resistance.
“The (Malaysian) Foreign Minister will endorse our request for an extension of the deadline to Tuesday on the basis of work still in progress on urging Kiram family to lead the peaceful withdrawal of the group in Lahad Datu as early as possible. The Foreign Minister will revert on our request,” Del Rosario told reporters in a text message.
Sabah, south of Mindanao, is territorially disputed by the Philippines and Malaysia.
A Philippine claim for sovereignty over island has laid dormant for decades, but Malaysia continues to pay a yearly rent to the heirs of Sultan of Sulu.
The continuous payment of the Malaysian government to the Sultan of Sulu for the lease of resource-rich Sabah can be basis to the plan of armed Filipino Muslims to reclaim the area.
“If you are being paid, you have a claim, isn’t it? That is your basis there. Even without saying anything, the fact (remains) that you are being paid (for the annual rent). What is the 5,000 ringgit (roughly P70,000) for?” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters on Friday.
However, Gazmin said he was against the action of the over 200 followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram by going to Sabah to renew their claim. He said Malaysian authorities have seized at least 20 firearms from the group.
“You can settle this (issue) before going there. In other words, the process leading to their actions is apparently not right,” he said.
The group, reported to be around 200, crossed to Malaysian-controlled Sabah last week to reclaim their ancestral homeland.
Malaysian forces surrounding them have given then until Friday to withdraw.
In a media forum Thursday night, Del Rosario said the Philippine government was informed by Malaysia that the Filipinos will be deported if they will refuse to leave Sabah.
He said he was assured by the Malaysian government that they will not use force on the Filipinos.
Del Rosario, during the Manila Overseas Press Club forum in Alabang, said the Philippine government will continue pressing for an extension of deadline until the situation is resolved peacefully.
The Filipinos refused to leave until the Malaysian government heeds their demand to re-open talks on unresolved claim of the sultanate on Sabah.
Every year, hundreds of Filipinos enter Sabah illegally through Mindanao in search of a better life.
Most of the undocumented Filipinos in Sabah hail from Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and other far-flung provinces in the south that are among the Philippines’ poorest and constantly plagued by war. (PNA/Sunnex)