Manila (AsiaNews) - The meeting between the President of the Filipino bishops Jose Palma and the "sultan" of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III is "a good step" and "a sign of solidarity" of the Church, but he "does not represent the official voice of all the sultans "who must instead find a" common line".
So says Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Zamboanga (Mindanao) speaking to AsiaNews. The priest who is also founder of Silsillah movement for Muslim-Christian dialogue, said that the family headed by Kiram III "has promoted several attempts, but we are not in the presence of the official 'sultan', they are divided amongst themselves." However, he adds, it is a positive initiative "in the wake of the diplomatic efforts" in the field to settle the matter peacefully.
On April , the "sultan" of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III met with the Archbishop of Cebu and President of the Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), to discuss the human rights violations against Filipino Muslims in Sabah. The prelate assured he would speak of the matter in the next few days, during a visit to the Vatican; the Holy See, he added, could raise the humanitarian problems at the United Nations in the near future.
In recent weeks, the Malaysian Borneo province was the scene of clashes between the army and Islamic militants in Kuala Lumpur the "royal army of Sulu." The official tally stands at 80 Filipino victims and nine Malaysians policemen killed. Following the crisis flared up in February this year, at least 5 thousand Filipino migrant workers in the area have long since returned home, denouncing abuses and human rights violations.
Fr. D'Ambra maintains that it is important that the Church "pay attention" to the issue, even if "the Vatican cannot do much, if not submit it to a UN meeting" and emphasize the absolute value of the protection of human rights. "[The Holy See] has no power on the field - he adds - but continues to have a high symbolic and persuasive value." However, the PIME priest confirms that "first" unity is needed between the various Muslim leaders of Sulu, which are called to defend and protect their rights "with one voice".
The dispute between Malaysia and descendants of the Sultanate of Sulu and Jolo, former owner of Sabah, has lasted for centuries. The area was donated to the sultans of Jolo and Sulu by local lords for having defended them in the eighteenth century from the colonization of Europeans. In 1878, the sultans of Jolo yield - for a cash fee - to a British consortium. After the Second World War and the end of colonialism, Malaysia officially entered into possession and since 1963 has had formal control. Since then, the Kiram clan, descendants of the sultans of Jolo, have always claimed the area. The recent agreements between the Moro Islamic Liberaton Front (MILF) and the Philippine government have provided a new opportunity for Sulu Muslims to reclaim the Sabah, putting at risk the future of the negotiations which had been moving very slowly and carefully, to avoid a clash diplomatic spat with Malaysia, the great sponsor of dialogue between Islamic rebels and the Philippine government. (DS)