Hidden agendas and poisoned apples in Sabah

FEW will be taken in by the calls made by all manners of political leaders not to politicise the ongoing standoff against at least two hundred armed intruders in Sabah.

Only the most naïve will believe that the situation will not be milked to its hilt by Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alike with the aim of making themselves look like knights in shining armour by slinging mud at their political opponents.

But by continually engaging in political one-upmanship at this time, we are needlessly risking the lives and safety of countless Malaysians – not just Sabahans but also the brave men we are sending to harm’s way on the frontlines of this confrontation.

Scoring cheap political points will do little to encourage national unity.

Squabble and point fingers later if you must, but for now, petty politics must be set aside for the sake of the safety and security of Sabah, as well as to uphold Malaysia’s sovereignty.

It is disingenuous to think that what is happening in Sabah does not concern the rest of Malaysia.

It is clearly a matter of national security and should be treated as such with the utmost urgency and seriousness.

While it is welcomed news that the Malaysian army and police forces are fi nally beefi ng up their operations on the East Coast with more military reinforcements on the way, it is not just enough to contain and neutralise the current threat, but also quickly circumvent other ones from growing and spreading.

A Mar 4 report carried by the Philippine Star said the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has also stated their ownership over Sarawak, although it offered no details as to whether the organisation planned to pursue it.

MLNF chieftain and founder Nur Misuari reportedly said that he and his clan are the true owners of Sabah and Sarawak, claiming that history would bear out their claims that both states were the original properties of his great, great grandfather.

The same report also said that although Misuari denied instigating the intrusion in Sabah, he admitted that some of the people who went to Lahad Datu were his relatives and members of his group.

The online report can be found here: <http://bit.ly/XjE6Yq> The MNLF is not to be confused with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which signed a Malaysia-brokered peace deal with the Philippine government last October to end four decades of civil war that had killed hundreds of people and decimated the lives of thousands more.

The MILF broke away from the MNLF in the 1970s after a split within the group’s leadership over MNLF’s acceptance of semi-autonomy in Southern Philippines from the Philippine government The earlier mentioned The Philippine Star report also said that MNLF’s Islamic Command Council chairman Habib Mujahab Hashim has offered the group to serve as mediator between the Sulu army and Malaysian forces.

He also suggested that Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states Brunei or Indonesia could mediate on behalf of the organisation of which Malaysia is also a member.

The OIC has recognised MNLF as an Observer since 1977.

This offer to help Malaysia, if sincere, is to be appreciated but should not be accepted because the MNLF’s ability to be a fair mediator is already in doubt over its self-admitted close links with the invading Sulu army.

Furthermore, leaders of the said Sulu group had already stated that their decision to exert ancestral homeland claims over Sabah was motivated by their exclusion from the recent MILFPhilippine government peace deal and negotiations.

At the time the treaty was announced, Misuari has been reported by the Filipino media as calling the MILF-Philippines peace agreement as a conspirary that aimed to “emasculate” earlier agreements between the MNLF and the Philippines government.

Thus, the MLNF have a direct interest in any negotiations between the Sulu army and Malaysia, as well as in the final outcome of the MILF-Philippines peace deal.

These latest developments will only add to what is quickly turning into a political and diplomatic migraine for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s administration.

Like it or not, how the PM resolves the situation may well turn into the watershed moment of his career.

If he negotiates with the Sulu army, he will be seen as giving legitimacy to an invading force and forsaking the people of Sabah.

If he uses force to evict the invaders, he will be decried by the Sultanate of Sulu as well as their supporters as violating their human rights and ancestral claims.

It may also introduce unwanted tensions into international relations with the Philippines government and undermine the ongoing peace deal with the MILF.

In addition, the presence of thousands of Filipinos and Sabahans of Sulu origin in the state who are sympathetic to the Sultanate of Sulu’s claims adds to complications.

Najib is in a difficult position and needs all the support he can get from both sides of the Malaysian political divide.

This is the time for statesmanship, not oneupmanship.

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