World Bulletin / News Desk
Armed men have killed five policemen in Malaysia's Sabah state where members of an armed faction from the Philippines have been facing off with security forces as they stake an ancient claim to the remote corner of Borneo island.
Police on Friday tried to end the standoff with scores of followers of the sultan of Sulu, a south Philippine region, who occupied a Sabah village in February to press their claim. Two policemen and 12 followers of the sultan were killed.
The five policemen late on Saturday were killed in an ambush on police hunting followers of the sultan.
Malaysia's inspector general of police, Ismail Omar, tried to ease any worries on Sunday, saying the situation was under control.
"I don't want speculation that Sabah is in crisis," Ismail told a news conference in the town of Lahad Datu. "We have our security forces at three places to respond."
Colonial Britain and the Netherlands carved up the island in the nineteenth century and Malaysia and Indonesia took their shares upon independence. Britain agreed to independence for the tiny oil-rich sultanate of Brunei on Borneo's west coast.
But under a pre-colonial pact between sultans, Sulu, in what would later become the Philippines, was awarded control of the northern corner of Borneo, in what would later become Malaysia.
A British trading company agreed during colonial times to pay Sulu a nominal lease for Sabah - it now amounts to 5,300 ringgit ($1,700) a year - and the claim of the ancient Sulu sultanate on Sabah was all but forgotten, until February.
Then, about 150 followers of the Sulu sultanate, which has no power but commands respect in the southern Philippines, sailed in and occupied a Sabah village, staking their claim and demanding a renegotiation of Sabah's lease.
Malaysia has said the demands will not be met and has sent in the security forces. Both Malaysia and the Philippines have calleA senior Malaysian defence official said the gunmen in Sabah had links with a Philippine rebel faction leader called Nor Misuari, who also saw no benefit from the pace deal.
"He will surely stir up more trouble," said the Malaysian official, who declined to be identd on the gunmen to give up and go home.
Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, who faces an election in weeks, has promised "drastic action" if the group does not leave.
The trouble looks to be at least partly the result of efforts to forge peace in the southern Philippines, in particular a peace deal signed between the Philippine government and Muslim rebels last October to end a 40 year conflict.
Jamalul Kiram, a former sultan of Sulu and brother of the man Philippine provincial authorities regard as sultan, said the peace deal had handed control of much of Sulu to Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), ignoring the sultanate.
The sultan loyalists had gone to Malaysia to revive their claim to Sabah as a protest in response to what they saw as the unfair peace deal, he said.
A senior Malaysian defence official said the gunmen in Sabah had links with another faction leader called Nor Misuari, who also saw no benefit from the pace deal.
"He will surely stir up more trouble," said the Malaysian official, who declined to be identified. ($1 = 3.0905 Malaysian ringgit)Last Mod: 03 Mart 2013, 11:59