Standoff in Sabah could derail Southern Philippines Peace Process

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) Only days after a peace accord between the Philippine government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was negotiated, and a declaration that about a lasting peace accord would be signed by March, an armed group, which claims to be the Royal Armed Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu, has occupied the Malaysian town of Tundao, Lahad Datu in the Malaysian state of Sabah an hours boat ride away from the Southern Philippines. Fighting between the insurgents and Malaysian police forces, which have surrounded the intruders, have lasted throughout the weekend. Malaysis´s government offers to negotiate in the hope that the intruders would to leave again peacefully.

File:MILF militant laying prone.jpg

MILF militant. Photo: Keith Baconcgo

According to Malaysian and Philippine news agencies and TV, the insurgents decided on a standoff over their claim to Sabah on the island of Borneo, after they were left out of the peace process between the Philippine government and the MILF. A report from the Inquirer states, that the Sulu Sultanate Crown Prince Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram has said, that the government appeared to have ignored their stand that their claim to Sabah should be made an ” integral and essential” aspect of any peace agreement with any armed group in Mindanao.

The secretary-general and spokesman of the Sultanate of Sulu, Abraham Julpa Idjirani, reportedly said that the decision to show not just physical presence but actual occupation of Sabah came late last year, shortly after the Aquino administration had signed a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the MILF. The government of the Philippine´s President Beningo Aquino III and the MILF signed a framework agreement that would end the decades-old Muslim insurrection in Mindanao by the creation of a new political entity called Bangsamoro in October 2012. Idjirani reportedly said, that before the Presidential adviser on the Peace Process has failed to honor an agreement to invite the Sultan of Sulu before consulting with the MILF.

According to Malaysian government informations, the Malaysian Security Forces have surrounded the intruding insurgents, whom they believe to be Philippine rebels who are unhappy over the Peace Deal between the Aquino administration and the MILF. Malaysia´s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anifa Aman, has assured the Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, that Malaysia would respect the rights of the Filipinos in the Sabah standoff. According to a statement of the Malaysian government, the Malaysian government has encouraged negotiations with the Philippinos in the hope that they would leave peacefully.

According to a Philippine scholar with extensive knowledge about the dynamics of the conflict, who contacted nsnbc but choses to remain anonymous of fear for reprisals, this weekends violence is, at its root cause by the aftereffects of colonialism and still ongoing but dormant territorial disputes between Malaysia and the Philippines over parts of Borneo island. According to the Philippine scholar, this weekends violence may make a final peace accord between the MILF and the Philippine government more complicated and derail it in terms of set dates, but it is unlikely, that the MILF per se will take up arms again over this weekends incident.

Related article:

Philippine Peace Accord expected by March

About christoflehmann

Christof Lehmann is the founder and senior editor of nsnbc. Christof Lehmann is a political writer, psychologist, and independent political consultant on a wide range of issues, including conflict and conflict resolution, negotiations, security management, crisis management. His articles are published widely in international print and online media and he is a frequent contributor to radio and TV programs. He is a lifelong advocate for human rights, peace and international justice and the prosecution of war crimes - also those committed by privileged nation. In September 2011 Christof Lehmann started the blog nsnbc in response to what he perceived as an embargo on truth about the conflict in Libya and Syria. In 2013, he plans to transform nsnbc into an independent, daily, international online newspaper.
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