Magazine article Geographical


Magazine article Geographical


Article excerpt

In March, reports emerged that the Malaysian government was sending security forces to the state of Sabah after a 200-strong group from the Philippines landed at Lahad Datu and demanded that this part of northern Borneo was returned to their local sultan.

The group's point of origin was the island of Simunul in the Tawi Tawi archipelago of the southern Philippines. Working under the name of the Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo (RSFSSNB), its mission was apparently instigated by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. a claimant to the throne of the so-called Sultanate of Sulu. It was aimed at highlighting and furthering an unresolved territorial claim involving North Borneo, now known as Sabah. With an area of about 72.000 square kilometres, Sabah is one of Malaysia's 13 states.

Initial reports suggested that Malaysian security forces and the RSFSSNB were locked in an uneasy standoff, but a number of clashes ensued, resulting in casualties on both sides. While President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines has appealed for calm and negotiation, the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak. has been under pressure to act decisively. He was reported as saying that Malaysian forces should 'take any action deemed necessary'.

Delicate negotiations have ensued. involving medical assistance for the Filipino injured and the development of a mechanism to help resolve the dispute without further loss of life. The government of the Philippines accused Malaysia of inflaming tensions by dispatching further troops to the region. Both countries have increased naval patrols and at the time of writing, a number of Malaysians were being held hostage by the Filipino group.

Founded during the 15th century, the Sultanate of Sulu ruled over many of the islands in the Sulu Sea, in the southern Philippines and parts of what is now Sabah (then North Borneo). From 1888, North Borneo was a British protectorate before becoming an integral part of Malaysia in 1963, even if an honorific relationship with the sultanate remains in place.

Supporters of the incursion maintain that Malaysia must renegotiate the relationship between the Sulu sultanate and Sabah. Although Malaysia has rejected all attempts to cede control over northern Borneo, it has continued its annual payments to descendants of the sultanate under the terms of an agreement negotiated with the North Borneo Chartered Company, which administered North Borneo from 1881.

The historic claim of the Sulu sultanate is an important element of the unfolding crisis, but there are other issues involved. …

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