We respect Sabah’s decision to join Malaysia, says MNLF chairman

JOHOR BAHARU: The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) recognises and respects the decision taken by the people of Sabah to join Malaysia in 1963, says chairman Muslimin Sema.

The Sabah people, he said, had the right to determine their own destiny by joining Malaysia, 50 years ago, and that right should not be disputed by any quarters.

“We (the MNLF) recognised the desire of the Sabah people to decide and determine their own destiny. They have decided to join Malaysia and we accede to their desire, that is our position,” he told Bernama in an exclusive interview via telephone from Manila Wednesday.

The dovish Muslimin, who is currently the vice-mayor of Cotabato City in southern Philippines, said he had been to Sabah in 1973 and personally witnessed the happiness felt by the Sabahans, led by their leaders after joining Malaysia.

“They have decided and we accepted it,” he said, adding that he still had many relatives in Sabah, who were loyal Malaysian citizens and earning a good and prosperous livelihood. “They have been able to earn a good and prosperous life in Sabah, which they are incapable of, had they remained in southern Philippines. I don’t want anything bad to happen to them because of what is happening now,” he said.

The MNLF, he said, considered Sabah and Malaysia as their “big brother”.

The chairman was commenting on the move made by the self-proclaimed sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram, to assert the resource-rich Sabah which he claimed was part of the sultanate’s land.

According to Muslimin, the MNLF had nothing to do with the action taken by Jamalul Kiram.

Three weeks ago, Jamalul Kiram sent armed groups led by his brother, Azzimudie Kiram, to Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu to claim Sabah as their ancestral homeland.

Their action sparked an armed standoff with Malaysia’s security forces which encircled the group, before launching air strikes and ground operations to flushed them out after numerous deadlines to lay down arms.

The ongoing security operation codenamed ‘Operasi Daulat’, has until now, seen 10 policemen and soldiers dead, as well as 56 armed terrorists.

On allegations made by the foreign media and a Philippine intelligence official that several parties conspired and instigated Jamalul Kiram in the quest to reclaim Sabah, Muslimin said the allegations on the matter needed to be investigated.

The allegations stated that the armed terrorists were “invited” to Sabah by leaders aligned with Malaysia’s opposition party.

Nevertheless, the MNLF leader believes Jamalul Kiram “does not have the capacity” to carry out the complicated armed operation of sending armed terrorists across the sea to Sabah.

“It is quite surprising that they have the capacity to send an expedition (to Sabah) like that. It is not easy to go to another country and kill people,” he said.

Responding to allegations the Filipino armed terrorists who took part in Sabah’s intrusion were each paid US$600, the MNLF leader said he did not have any knowledge on the matter.

He was also asked on the relationship between MNLF’s former leader Nur Misuari and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, to which he replied that both were known as acquaintances.

“I don’t really know (about their relationship), but they have been acquaintances during Misuari’s post as the Governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao,” he said.

To a question, Muslimin said MNLF would check on claims that its members were involved in the armed intrusion in Sabah.

The MNLF chief said the organisation was keen to find out more about the identity of the gunmen’s leader known as ‘Commander Musa’ who was killed by the Malaysian security forces in Tanjung Batu, Lahad Datu during a firefight.

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