Manila (AsiaNews) - Conflict
between Muslim factions in predominantly Muslim Mindanao is affecting Malaysia,
where the authorities recently reported the presence of some 200 Filipino
Muslim militants in the state of Sabah (Borneo Island), which is also home to a
sizeable Christian community.
According to Indonesia's
Interior Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, the group has been holed up in a small
village on Sabah's east coast. To avoid bloodshed, "Security forces are [. . .]
negotiating with them, some of whom are armed," he said.
Unknown until now, the group
that calls itself the 'Sulu Royal Army' has been added to the list of armed
Muslim groups active on Borneo and in the Philippines.
Their number has been rising
since the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Filipino authorities reached
a peace agreement. MILF is the major Islamic movement in the country, and the
peace deal it has inked calls for its disarmament, something that has left a
leadership vacuum in the region.
At present, it is still
unclear whether members of terror group Abu Sayyaf are among the Filipino militants
in the Malaysian village. Sulu (Mindanao) is the former's stronghold and is not
far from Malaysian territorial waters.
Filipino authorities have
not excluded that possibility and in recent days deployed a number of Navy
vessels along its maritime borders. MILF troops are also in the area.
In 2000, Muslims extremists
abducted 21 Western tourists in Sipadan (Lahad Datu, Malaysia). The incident
ended after months of negotiations between Malaysia, the Philippines and the
Sources told AsiaNews that the Sulu Royal Army is "one
of many private armies hired by local Muslim leaders who have close ties to
In recent years, the waters
that separate the Philippines from Malaysia have become a major conduit for
weapons, drugs and people.
Historically, Malaysian Muslim
leaders have been allied to Filipino rebels whose goal is to re-establish the
pre-colonial Sultanate of Sulu.
Malaysian authorities warn
that the arrival of people from Mindanao has heightened tensions in Sabah, home
to a sizeable Christian minority, whose members now fear discrimination and
abuses at the hands of Muslims. (S.C.)