The leader of Muslim militants in the Malaysian state of Sabah has called for a ceasefire as Malaysian security forces said they had more than 200 insurgents surrounded with no way out but the sea.
Jamalul Kiram III, the self-proclaimed sultan of Sulu, declared the ceasefire from his home in a Manila suburb on Thursday after Philippines President Benigno Aquino warned he would not allow his country to be ”dragged into war” with Malaysia.
Mr Kiram, who is facing arrest over his role in the crisis, told reporters through a spokesman his militants on Sabah would remain where they are.
”They will not take any action. They will not expand their operations,” Abraham Idjirani, the spokesman, said with the ailing Mr Kiram, 74, sitting next to him.
”We hope Malaysia reciprocates the same call with a ceasefire”
But Malaysian Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi immediately rejected the ceasefire call.
”The unilateral ceasefire is rejected by Malaysia, unless the militants surrender unconditionally,” he wrote on Twitter.
Sabah police commissioner Hamza Taib said Malaysia’s police and army had cordoned off an area near Lahad Datu town in Sabah where they believe most of the militants are still hiding despite air and ground assaults.
”If there’s a way out it’s only by the sea,” Mr Taib said. ”However, I admit that there are challenges as we’re dealing with human beings, so they may have tricks up their sleeves.”
More than 40 people have been killed since the militants – portraying themselves as a royal militia in the service of the defunct sultanate of Sulu – arrived in Sabah on February 9, claiming they are rightful heirs to the area and prompting the most serious security crisis in Malaysia in decades.
The sultanate was an Islamic state that for centuries ruled the southern Philippines and parts of what is Malaysia’s Sabah state.
A three-week standoff between the militants and security forces escalated dramatically on March 2, when militants tortured and mutilated six policemen after an ambush in a village near the eastern Sabah coast town of Semporna on March 2.
One of the policemen was beheaded and had his eyes gouged out.
Azmi, a fisherman who lives near the village, told local journalists: ”It’s against our religion to behead anyone … it’s terrible, it’s cruel”.
The incident shocked Malaysian authorities and was the catalyst for Prime Minister Najib Razak deploying seven battalions of soldiers to Sabah with orders to use whatever force was necessary to defeat the militants, informed sources said.
The militants appear to be hardened fighters adept at guerilla tactics, raising the possibility of their links to insurgent groups in the southern Philippines such as the Moro National Liberation Front.
Those groups have often beheaded their enemies, including captured Philippines soldiers and hostages whose family did not pay a ransom.
The MNLF’s leader, Nur Misuari, has admitted some of his fighters have gone to Sabah to join the fighting. He warned Malaysian authorities not to harm the 800,000 Filipino civilians living in Sabah, many of whom work on palm oil plantations.
”Do not touch our civilians. Once you do that, that will be tantamount to declaration of war against our people and the Moro National Liberation Front,” he said.
The MNLF and Mr Kiram’s followers were excluded from a peace agreement signed last year between another group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and the Philippines government. Analysts say the incursion by Mr Kiram’s followers into Sabah has inflamed tensions in the southern Philippines and may scuttle the deal, which Malaysia helped broker.
Genocide. This is the crime that the Malaysian government has been committing when it launched an all-out attack to end the stand off in Lahud Datu in Sabah, claims an expert.
Llasos, who is running an independent campaign for Senate under Ang Kapatiran Party, was an understudy and protégé of University of the Philippines College of Law Dean Merlin Magallona. Llasos, also an expert on international law, issued the statement as he expressed disappointment with the way the Philippine government is handling the fluid situation in Lahud Datu.
“If Malaysian authorities are attacking a particular tribe or a particular group like the Tausug and they do it indiscriminately, affecting those who are not part of the alleged outlaws from the members of the Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu, that is an international crime,” Llasos said. “They are committing genocide, which can make the Malaysian authorities liable under the international humanitarian laws,” the practicing lawyer added.
The Tausugs are a minority of people living in Mindanao and Malaysia who originally came from the Sulu archipelago.
Llasos noted the Aquino administration should prioritize holding Malaysian government liable instead of looking for violations that Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s followers may have committed in sailing overseas to press their claim over the disputed territory, even without the authority from the Philippine government.
He clarified Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s declaration of all-out attacks to defend its “honour and sovereignty against Sulu intruders” does not justify Malaysia’s disregard against 600,000 Filipino non-combatants already living in Sabah before the security threat occurred.
Llasos criticized Malaysia for not considering the unarmed civilians who went with Kiram’s brother, Raja Muda Agbimuddin, when its police launched mopping operations against at least 200 followers. He expressed frustration at President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s insensitivity to the cultural sentiments of Kiram’s followers, which he said may blow out of proportion.
“The cue came from no less than the president when he called those people (Tausug) as outlaws. So if they are outlaws, the Malaysian authorities will consider them as criminals and will shoot them on site,” he explained. “There is no sensitivity to the Tausug psyche and culture. The way the government is handling the Sabah issue really shows the ineptness and incompetence of this administration,” he noted.
The international law expert highlighted President Aquino’s “ignorance” about the country’s long-standing historical and legal claims on Sabah. The chief executive also ordered Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to probe if Kiram’s followers committed violations.
“The president is clueless on most of these issues. My God! He doesn’t know that as early as 1962 there was already legal study that was already conducted,” Llasos said.
During the time of former President Diosdado Macapagal, recognized international law experts – former Senators Arturo Tolentino and Jovito Salonga – have studied and documented the nation’s claims on Sabah.He is also blaming the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for its failure to gather intelligence report about the planned movement from Kiram’s followers, which could have prevented the Sabah stand off.
Llasos is baffled as to why the military failed to do its job in spite of gargantuan funds that go the AFP commands in Mindanao. “That (Sabah stand off) should not have happened if there is a military intelligence from the very beginning, if the president or the government was able to detect their (Kiram’s followers) move to go to sabah,” he said.
“This government is clueless and who is the commander in chief of the Armed Forces. Second, there was no backdoor negotiation asking (the Malaysian government) to spare their lives,” he added. On Tuesday, a Malaysian government spokesperson said at least 27 people were killed after Malaysian soldiers launched violent operations against Kiram’s followers.
Malaysia’s “drastic steps” began a few hours after the ultimatum for Kiram’s followers to leave Sabah expired last week. While working as an editorial assistant at the Institute of International Legal Studies, Llasos helped publish a book entitled “The Philippines Claim over a Portion of North Borneo: Documents, Materials, and Cases” in 2003.