A standoff between the Malaysian army and a Filipino armed group that claims a part of Malaysia is moving into its second week.
The group of 100 armed men refuses to move from a village in Malaysia’s eastern state of Sabah that they have occupied, despite pleas from both the Malaysian and Philippine governments to return to the Sulu archipelago on the Philippine side of the sea border.
On Wednesday, Jamalul Kiram III, a former sultan of Sulu and brother of the man Philippine provincial authorities regard as sultan, rejected a historic peace deal between the Philippines and Muslim rebels and said he would not ask his men to pull out from Sabah.
Security analysts had warned that the peace deal signed by the Philippine government and Muslim rebels last October to end 40 years of conflict in the Philippine south risked stirring instability by alienating powerful clan leaders.
Jamalul said the peace deal had handed control of much of Sulu to Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels, ignoring the sultanate.
“I cannot understand what our government is doing. I cannot understand why, instead of siding with us because we are Filipinos, they are siding with the Malaysians,” he said.
Jamalul said the group of sultan loyalists had gone to Malaysia as a protest action in response to what they saw as the unfair peace deal, and they would not back down, despite growing shortages in food and water from the week-long standoff.
“We will not budge, we will not leave. If we die, then we die,” he said.
Malaysian police armed with machine guns have surrounded the village in a palm-oil plantation area.
Malaysian officials said over the weekend that the group’s demands would not be met and that the men would be deported soon, without specifying how.
Jamalul said his followers were demanding recognition from Malaysia as the rightful owners of Sabah and renegotiation of the original terms of the lease with a British trading company.
In an arrangement that stretches back to British colonial times, Malaysia pays a token amount to the Sulu sultanate each year for the “rental” of Sabah.
Jamalul said the Sulu royal family had asked to take part in the peace negotiations because the old sultanate’s territories would be part of a new autonomous Muslim area, but they were rebuffed by the Philippine government.
He said their group was open to negotiations with Malaysia to settle the standoff quickly.