03/07/2013, 00.00
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Sabah: Malaysia’s Prime Minister rejects Filipino "sultan’s" ceasefire offer

From Manila, Jamalul Kiram III calls for a truce and promises that the militia "will not take any initiative." Najib Razak responds: no agreement without the "unconditional surrender." UN Secretary-General’s appeal for an end to violence. To date, at least 40 dead, fears for the safety of civilians.

kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Tension is still high in the State of Sabah, in northern Malaysian Borneo, the theater of violent clashes between Filipino guerrillas and the of Kuala Lumpur. From his base in Manila, Jamalul Kiram III, the self-proclaimed "Filipino Sultan" and leader of the rebel movement "Royal army of the Sultanate of Sulu" has ensured that the militia "will take no further action". There are still between 100 and 300 rebel fighters on the island, but they will "stay where they are and will not expand operations ". The response of Prime Minister Najib Razak, however, is to the point: no ceasefire, if not preceded by an "unconditional surrender." The latest developments come in the wake of a massive Malaysian offensive, that seems to have dealt a severe blow to the militants activities.

UN Secretary-General referred to the conflict yesterday, calling for an immediate cease-fire and the opening of a dialogue between the parties. Ban Ki-moon said he was "concerned about the impact on the civilian population", in particular for the many "migrant workers in the region."

There are about 800 thousand Filipino migrants living in Sabah, the second largest state in Malaysia and composed of 3.1 million inhabitants. In the district of Tawau, where the fighting has been concentrated, half of the population is considered "non-Malaysian". The violence erupted with particular intensity on March 1 last and so far has caused at least 40 deaths, including eight officers from the Malaysian police force.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Najib Razak travelled to Sabah to closely follow the developing situation. The crisis has concerned both Kuala Lumpur to Manila, already facing domestic criticism. In the Philippine capital there was a march for an end to violence and the protection of migrant workers. Issues connected to domestic and international politics are further complicating an already delicate situation: territorial rights, parliamentary elections in the Philippines and general elections in Malaysia, the peace agreement between Manila and MILF Muslim rebels, mediated by the government in Kuala Lumpur, which, however, now finds itself having to repel the internal assaults of a fundamentalist wing.

Since the fourteenth century the south of the Philippine archipelago and the territory of Sabah (now Malaysia) were under the rule of the Sultan of Sulu. However, four centuries later, the European colonial forces wrested control of the entire area. After the Second World War and the end of colonialism, Malaysia annexed the territories and in 1963 assumed the power of Sabah. On 4 February, a few hundred militants from the so-called  "Royal army of the Sultanate of Sulu" occupied the territory, claiming territorial rights based on documents dating back to 1878, which establish the ownership of the area to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu.


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