08 September, 2008

Sulu sultan questions Malaysia’s real motives

The 35th ruler of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo on Sunday accused Malaysia of having a hidden agenda in brokering peace between the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The talks had led to the creation of the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, or BJE, a homeland for Muslims in Mindanao.

Sultan Fuad Kiram 1st said that at first glance, Malaysia should be commended for its peace initiatives in the four-decades old MILF insurgency. But under close scrutiny, he added, Malaysia does not measure up as an honest and impartial peace broker.

Kiram claimed Malaysia has a vested interest in hosting the peace talks in its capital, Kuala Lumpur —to maintain that country’s supposedly illegal occupation of Sabah or Northern Borneo, which is controlled by Malaysia but is also claimed by the Philippines. The sultan fears that in exchange for Malaysia’s initiatives, Manila could keep quiet about its claim to Sabah or drop it altogether.

Sabah, which is rich in oil and timber, is owned by the Sultanate of Sulu, as it has been since 1658, Kiram insisted. “That’s why we maintain even in our communications, both private and public, the heading of Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo.”

In a statement, the Sultanate of Sulu accused Malaysia of financing the MILF insurgency.

But in a text message to The Manila Times, the MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said they have not made any agreement with Malaysia regarding the dropping of the Sabah claim by the Philippines in exchange for Malaysia hosting the peace talks in Kuala Lumpur.

“There is no such agreement. Sabah has never been an agenda for [the] talks,” Iqbal added.

Regarding the charge that Malaysia is financing the MILF insurgency, Iqbal said Kuala Lumpur is spending a huge amount of money but only for the peace process.

In a related development, the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, a civil society group based in Cotabato City, also publicly acknowledges the important role of Malaysia in the MILF insurgency.

Professor Abhoud Syed Lingga, institute executive director, said that while many have criticized Malaysia as partial to the MILF in heading the International Monitoring Team, that country is playing an important role in realizing peace that has eluded Mindanao.

Lingga said that when Malaysia withdrew 28 of its peacekeepers from the 65-man monitoring team, the number of clashes between the MILF and military went up.

Not consulted

Kiram said no one could deny the fact that the Sultanate of Sulu is one of the stakeholders in Mindanao, but it was never invited nor consulted regarding the formation of the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. He said the “ancestral-domain” under the guise of the entity is ill-conceived and ignores the true owners of the lands and territories being claimed by the MILF as its ancestral domain.

The sultan argued that “ancestral domain” suggests that the land in question is owned by the ancestors of the claimant. But the MILF cannot present proof of traditional or historical ownership by their ancestors of the land and territories for inclusion under the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. “We refer to the provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Palawan, and the Zamboanga Peninsula consisting of Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay . . . [as] the ancestral domain of the Sultanate of Sulu,” Kiram said.

Kiram said he respects the opinion of his Muslim brothers in the MILF for defending Malaysia’s motives for helping bring about peace. Despite the denial of the MILF, he insisted Malaysia would not give so much financial help without wanting something in return.

Sultanate for peace process

Despite a likely agenda, the Sultan of Sulu said he fully supports the peace talks and hopes peace would finally come to Mindanao. He said he wishes for the conflict to end so the region can move toward economic development, which is likely when Muslims or Christians learn to live in harmony.

Kiram also declared his support for the full implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement signed by the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under then- Chairman Nur Misuari and with the concurrence of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

As a matter of fact, an alliance between the Sultanate of Sulu and MNLF was sealed in Davao City recently that also coincided with the 40th founding anniversary of the MNLF.

As the sole representative of Filipino Muslims in the Organization of Islamic Conference, the MNLF declared its full recognition and support to the Sultanate of Sulu’s dominion over North Borneo, or Sabah, citing the territorial baseline of the Sultanate that dates back to 1658.

According to the MNLF statement, “It is our stated policy that the illegal Malaysian occupation of Sabah must end, and, therefore, Sabah must be returned to the Sultanate of Sulu.”

(First of two parts)

By Julmunir I. Jannaral, Correspondent
The Manila Times.

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