The fighting in Malaysia’s Sabah province could be turning into a massive humanitarian crisis the likes of which the otherwise prosperous region hasn’t seen in decades. As sketchy reports of abuses perpetrated by Malaysian security forces allegedly purging the state of Filipino nationals get traded amongst “concerned” individuals on the Net, the Philippine government has issued its strongest statement (as far as Philippine government statements on the matter go) to the Malaysian government so far…
The Philippine Foreign Affairs Department said in a statement that it â€œviews with grave concernâ€ Philippine news reports alleging Filipinos have been rounded up in Lahad Datu, the coastal district where the gunmen are believed to be hiding, and other Sabah areas.
â€œThe allegations are alarming and should be properly and immediately addressed by concerned authorities,â€ the statement said.
Part of the problem stems from a lack of transparency around the events unfolding in the Sabah crisis which had severely degenerated over the last several weeks following an incursion into Malaysian territory by the “royal army” of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, claimant to the throne of the Sultanate of Sulu. This lack of transparency seems to be a result of a reluctance on the part of the Malaysian government to disclose authoritative updates on their police operations against the intruders and a lack of international media coverage on the ground.
Evidence is mounting that the situation in Sabah is far from being “under control”. The Philippine government is reportedly having to start to deal with a steady stream of refugees fleeing the violence…
[…] Philippine authorities continued to receive Filipinos fleeing from the conflict in Sabah, intercepting lately at least 130 more refugees on board a motorboat in the waters of Tawi-Tawi, reports reaching the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) leadership in Cotabato City said yesterday.
The reports quoted Lt. Commander Lawrence Roque, commander of the Philippine Coast Guard station in Bongao, as saying that the latest refugees â€“ mostly women, children and the elderly â€“ were taken off Taganak Island, also known as Turtle Island, near Sandakan, Sabah.
The refugees were escorted to Bongao, the capital of Tawi-Tawi, where they were assisted by Task Force Tabang, which was formed to help civilians displaced by the hostilities in Sabah, according to ARMMâ€™s social welfare and development officials.
They claimed to have escaped from Sabah for fear that they would be rounded up by Malaysian security forces reportedly raiding houses of residents with Filipino-sounding surnames.
Up to 800,000 Philippine nationals currently reside in Sabah, many of whom trace their ancestry to Tausug tribes who once formed the vast majority of the subjects of the Sultanate of Sulu. Armed operations against the Filipinos by Malaysian security forces have continued and have even been stepped up after calls for a ceasefire coming from Kiram were rejected by Kuala Lumpur last week. But the ethnic ties of many Sabahans with southern Filipinos have complicated things for the Malaysian armed forces. Reports abound of reenforcements coming from groups left out of the loop in a peace deal brokered by Kuala Lumpur between Manila and the militant Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) coming to the aid of the intruders in Sabah.
According to a report by Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire T Gazmin to Malaysian Defence Minister said Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the Philippine Navy has poured more resources into a naval blockade to stem the flow of assistance to the Sabah intruders coming from Mindanao…
[Hamidi] said the Philippine government had launched an operation to prevent residents from the Sulu Islands to cross over to Sabah.
Malaysia appreciates the effort done by Philippine government, he told reporters after opening a carnival organised by Barisan Nasional (BN) and Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) in Gopeng here today.
The crisis is a stark reminder to the Malaysian and Philippine governments of the failure of their politicians to take a long and broad view of what is at stake for the people most impacted by the upheaval. Successive Philippine presidencies, for one, have sat on the issue of the Philippine claim on Sabah for decades. The Malaysian government, for their part, have allegedly been providing logistical and training support to armed Islamic rebels in Mindanao since the 1970s which, in an ironic karmic twist, now finds them having to deal with elements amongst the intruders who are familiar with the Sabahan terrain. And, more recently, the much-hyped “framework agreement” brokered by Kuala Lumpur that would’ve paved the way for peace between the MILF and Manila left key stakeholders out of the loop.
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