Monday, March 11, 2013

Fear of incursionists carrying out protracted guerilla warfare

By Habhajan Singh
A prolonged guerilla-style militant presence in Lahad Datu and other areas in Sabah is one of the concerns on the minds of the Malaysian security authorities who are still trying to figure out how the engagement with the so-called Sulu sultanate army escalated into a gunfight that led to deaths on both sides.
“There is a concern that the situation may escalate into a long-drawn guerilla war. You have some 30,000 to 40,000 Sulu people in Sabah,” one senior government official told The Malaysian Reserve.
“We are not sure what led to the killing (by the Sulu sultanate army). The police were not aggressive. This is one of the things that is baffling us,” added another official who is in the loop on the security response in Lahad Datu.
After the Sulu army made their way to Lahad Datu on Feb 9, and holding their position past the Feb 26 deadline imposed by the Malaysian side, March 1 saw a dramatic escalation of the stand-off when two Malaysian police commandos were killed and three others injured in a gun battle with the Sulu terrorists.
All 12 members of the Sulu group in the gun battle were subsequently killed in the incident.As at press time, the death toll had increased to 60 — 8 Malaysians and 52 Sulu terrorists.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak visited Lahad Datu for the first time yesterday, announcing the establishment of a special security area to safeguard the sovereignty and security of the state’s east coast. It encompasses the districts of Kudat, Tawau, Kunak, Sandakan and Lahad Datu.
“This Special Security Area will have Lahad Datu as its central command and several temporary cabins will be placed there so that it can begin functioning immediately,” Bernama quoted him telling a news conference after checking on and attending a briefing on the ongoing “Ops Daulat” operation against the armed incursionists.
The security officials who spoke to The Malaysian Reserve also said the Malaysian authorities were “quite clear” that the incursion by the Sulu army was more to do with Philippines internal politics rather than the claim for Sabah.
“It’s more to destabilise the present Philippine administration, and less to do with any real claim over Sabah,” said one official.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino will be facing mid-term elections in May and presidential elections in 2016.
There is speculation that the incursion could have been linked to forces that wanted to apply pressure on the president as the local elections come closer.
But some quarters believe that it could genuinely be related to Sulu claim over Sabah, a matter that Malaysia claims to have been firmly settled in 1963 when Sabah joined Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya to form the enlarged entity called Malaysia.
Phillipines’s Inquirer News, for example, reported that Malaysia pays a token sum of RM5,300 a year to the Sulu sultanate as lease on Sabah, adding that there are reports in Manila that the paltry amount may be one of the reasons for Jamalul Kiram III to send the “Royal Security Forces to the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” to Sabah on Feb 9 to occupy the territory.
As to why negotiations were allowed to prolong, the officials who spoke to The Malaysian Reserve also said that the Malaysian authorities went into the situation with the mindset that they were dealing with parties that were not entirely alien to them.
Malaysia was actively involved in brokering the historic peace deal signed in October 2012 between the Philippine government and Muslim rebels to end 40 years of bloody conflict.
“Until the shooting, the Malaysian authorities were willing to negotiate its way out of this. But when the killing started taking place, the whole ball game changed,” said one official.
Yesterday, Bernama reported Najib as saying that Kuala Lumpur will not consider any request for a ceasefire so long as the armed incursionists in Sabah do not lay down arms unconditionally.
Najib said Aquino had contacted him for Malaysia’s reaction to the call for a ceasefire by Jamalul Kiram III, reports Bernama.“I informed Aquino that they need to surrender unconditionally and their weapons have to be handed over to us,” he told a news conference, the report added.
SALUTING THE HEROES: The prime minister (left) says Sabah would continue to be maintained as a state within Malaysia and no one should dispute that absolute status. Najib met with a few armed forces personnel after the briefing on the ‘Ops Daulat’ in Felda Sahabat 16 in Lahad Datu (pic: The Malay Mail)