Malaysia urged to open 'safety corridor'-A A +A
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) requested the Malaysian government to establish a "safety corridor" to allow evacuation of innocent Filipinos caught in the violence in Lahad Datu.
Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said in a press briefing Tuesday that Secretary Albert del Rosario has asked Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman to ensure the safety of women, children and other civilians in Sabah.
However, he said that the Malaysian government has yet to respond to the request made by the del Rosario regarding the establishment of a safety corridor. Hernandez said it is still "under consideration."
Over 20 people were killed in clashes between Malaysian forces and the followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III following a three-week standoff, according to Malaysian newspapers.
According to Hernandez, the Foreign Affairs chief returned to the country from Malaysia on Tuesday afternoon and vowed to continue his effort of talking to Malaysian authorities to "save lives."
"The reason why the Secretary went to Malaysia is to personally convey the wish of the Philippine government that Malaysian forces exercise maximum tolerance . . . for the ship to dock in Lahad Datu and enable the wounded to be treated by the medical personnel onboard," the DFA spokesman said.
He added the Philippine government is also requesting its Malaysian counterpart to allow it to provide consular assistance to the Filipinos in Sabah.
BRP Tagbanua, which is still currently in Sibutu Island in Tawi-Tawi, is waiting for further instructions from the Philippine and Malaysian authorities.
Hernandez said that the humanitarian ship is ready to proceed to the border once Malaysia allows it to have access to the Filipinos.
The humanitarian ship was dispatched from Tawi-Tawi more than a week ago to fetch women and civilians in Lahad Datu.
Two more vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard have been prepared Zamboanga City to assist Filipinos in Sabah who would need evacuation.
The vessels BRP-Edsa and BRP-Davao del Norte are "just waiting orders" from the DFA to be deployed in the border of the Philippines and Malaysia, PCG public affairs chief commander Armando Balilo said in the agency's website.
Since the vessels' mission is humanitarian in purpose, Balilo said the PCG is hoping that Malaysia will allow them to fetch Filipinos wanting to leave Sabah due to the recent events.
Meanwhile, Hernandez clarified that the Philippines has not abandoned its claims territorial over Sabah.
"We have not abandoned our claims in Sabah. President mandated the DFA and the DOJ (Department of Justice) to study on how to consider this issue and move it," Hernandez said when asked about Manila's official position on the Sabah claims.
He added that President Benigno Aquino III was very "clear" in his statements when he said that "he is willing to sit down with them [Kiram's group] on how to solve this issue, how to move it forward and how to address the grievances."
Hernandez also said that both of the departments will have to come up with recommendations and other inputs "as soon as possible."
Three weeks ago, some 300 followers of Kiram arrived from Sulu in Lahad Datu to reclaim what they say is rightfully theirs. Sabah was leased by Kiram's ancestors to the British North Borneo Company in 1878.
However, the Company ceded its rights to the British government, which in turn granted the sovereignty of Sabah to the Malaysian government. Up to this day though, Kuala Lumpur still pays an annual "leasing" fee of P70,000 to the Sultanate of Sulu.
The Malaysian government thrice extended the deadline given to Kiram's followers to leave Lahad Datu or risk being forcibly arrested and deported. On Friday and Saturday, a series of clashes ensued between the Malaysian forces and Kiram's men.
The siege resulted in the death of some 18 Filipinos and several Malaysian police. (CVB/Emmanuel Louis Bacani/Sunnex)