Saturday, March 2, 2013

Gunfight in Lahad Datu

The Sabah stand-off turned deadly when Malaysian security forces opened fire at the Sulu gunmen holed up at the Felda Sahabat 17, Kampung Tanduo in Sabah’s Lahad Datu between 10 AM and 12 PM yesterday.

The Sulu sultan's daughter Jacel Kiram speaking to the Philippine Star had pointed the finger at Malaysia for launching the attack even as negotiations to end the standoff were ongoing.

"The unprovoked assault on the Lahad Datu encampment was uncalled for. We suffered now 14 casualties – 10 dead and four wounded. Blood has flowed," she lamented. On the Malaysian side, two were killed and three wounded. 

Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib has a different story. He told a press conference on Friday itself the twelve armed intruders were killed when they tried to break out of the cordon imposed by the Malaysian security forces.

[Actual casualties seem to differ – I really don't know who to believe].

It doesn’t matter who started the shooting. But these facts cannot be disputed. By 10 AM Friday morning, all shops, banks and schools in Lahad Datu town were ordered to close, indicating that the Malaysians had already decided to make the first move. And the Army was mobilized, as can be seen from this video that was published on February 28, 2013:

This was in spite of the fact that the higher-ups had earlier boasted: "We are in control"! And the Philippine government had made a formal request to continue negotiating. Besides, the Sulu fighters would be foolish to want to have a gunfight because they came to Lahad Datu to negotiate with the objective of winning recognition as the rightful owners of the Sabah “province”. Therefore, it served no purpose to attack superior Malaysian forces because the odds were stacked against them.

And here’s the bizarre twist. Malaysia actually agreed to negotiate and this is something I cannot fathom. When you have an invading “army” (even if it is a 'pretend' army) in your backyard, you neutralize them immediately. But no, we decided to be clever and begin talking to them and this dragged on for nearly three weeks. Once we started a dialogue, we had given them cause to stay put because we were telling them that we accepted their presence.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose government has been embarrassed by the security breach, said in the shootout's aftermath that he told police and armed forces to take whatever action was necessary to end the impasse.

"Now there is no grace period for the group to leave," he was quoted as saying by Malaysian media, blaming the intruders for sparking the violence. Suddenly, he became decisive. No extension, no negotiation and no new deadline. Najib is really a joker!

Of course, Hishammuddin and the IGP took the cue and also started to talk tough and even issued an ultimatum to the Sulus – compare this to the twenty days of hospitality that we generously extended to an armed force that had the gall to sneak into our territory.

Today, the next in line to the title of Sultan of Sulu, Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, said he and the remaining 224 (or 234, depending on which report you read) followers in Sabah were ready to face death.

And according to a source in Sabah, a Tausug engineer who refused to be identified for fear of his safety affirmed that there is a news blackout in Malaysia. He said that aside from the 300 or so armed men around the Raja Muda, there are around 800 armed men in nearby Semporna and at least 1000 more armed and ready in the nearby islands in the Sulu Sea (Blogpage

Meanwhile, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) warned that the use of force by Malaysia may escalate hostilities in Sabah and this may result in a civil war. As MNLF political chief Gapul Hajiru said there are thousands of Bangsamoro residing in Sabah! Thanks to former premier, Mahathir Mohamad, I am ready to bet that they possess blue ICs, making them Malaysian citizens.

According to the Philippine Star, there are more than 8,500 Filipinos – mostly Tausugs (the Sulu people) – in Sabah whom Gapul claims are potential supporters of the Sultanate of Sulu in which Malaysia has been paying an annual lease of RM5,300 for "their homeland".

You and I know there will be more bloodshed.

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