Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Malaysian army is launching an attack against 200 militants of the Filipino' "Royal army of the Sultan of Sulu" holed up in the town of Sabah since February 4, in the eastern part of the archipelago. The raid comes after several attempts at mediation made by Malaysian Premier Najib Razak and Philippine President Aquino Benin, who in recent weeks have repeatedly urged Islamist rebels led by Jamalul Kiram, known as the "Sultan of Sulu" to lay down their arms . In these days of gun battles with security forces at least 30 people have been killed. The bombing this morning destroyed several square miles of palm oil plantations, but so far there have been no injuries among the civilian population. In the coming days there will be a ground offensive with the use of seven army battalions. Kiram has announced that his group will "fight to the death."
"The royal army of the Sultanate of Sulu" occupied the territory of Sabah on 4 February claiming the property with documents dating back to 1878, which establish the ownership of the area to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu. The Sabah came under Malaysia in 1963. In recent weeks, President Aquino has attempted to mediate with Kiram a descendant of the sultans, even to the point of checking the authenticity of the documents in his possession, to prevent the outbreak of a new conflict in the area.
The Philippine Head of State and Malaysian Premier were the advocates of peace between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine Army, an event that kicked off a new phase of relations with the Islamic militias engaged in a guerrilla war which lasted more than 40 years, which has plagued the Muslim majority region of Mindanao, with tens of thousands of deaths. The recent occupation of Sabah comes ahead of parliamentary elections in Malaysia, set for April 28. Many have already accused Najib of weakness and bringing fresh conflict to the country. Aquino points his finger at the supporters of President Gloria Arroyo who are said to have close ties with the Islamic leaders of Sulu, who have criticized plans for the new autonomous region of Bangsamoro the result of an agreement between the MILF and Manila.