MNLF Urges UN: Send Peacekeepers to Sabah

Send peacekeeping forces to Sabah to prevent bloodshed.

This was the appeal to the United Nations (UN) aired on Friday by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a political organization of the Bangsamoro people in the southern Philippines which once took up arms against the government.

The appeal issued in Zamboanga City by the MNLF was in response to reports that the Malaysian government had handed down a February 22 deadline for followers of a Philippine sultan, some of whom are armed, to stand down and leave Lahad Datu in Sabah state.

Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the crown prince of the Sultanate of Sulu in the Philippines, was adamant about leaving the place which he calls the ancestral territory of his people.

Malaysian security forces have surrounded the area where Kiram and his followers are holed up and imposed a food embargo on the Mindanao natives. Their food supply had been cut off since Wednesday.

As the high-tension drama continues to unravel, the MNLF Central Committee Chairman and founder Prof. Dr. Nur P. Misuari convened "over 2,000 (MNLF) leaders" from the Philippines at the "MNLF Leadership Meeting" last Thursday.

After the meeting, the participants issued Resolutions Nos. 01, 02, 03.

Prof. Mashur Ghalib bin Jundam, who chairs the MNLF's education committee, sent copies of the documents to the Manila Bulletin.

Jundam, a close ally of Misuari, said "Maas" (an endearing term meaning "Old Man" for Misuari) conducted the meeting to discuss and address issues and concerns facing the Bangsamoro people.

He said the first resolution is called "Resolution on the Sabah Stand-off between the Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and the Malaysian Armed Forces."

In the document, the MNLF leaders expressed a series of appeals to the United Nations, Malaysian government, and the Malaysian prime minister.

They want the UN to dispatch a peacekeeping mission to the disputed island.

"We call on the U.N. to send its peace keeping force to Sabah so as to further avoid bloodshed between the Malaysian forces and those of the Sultanate of Sulu soldiers."

They are referring to the hundreds of men of Sultan Hadji Jamalul Kiram III whom he sent nearly two weeks ago led by his younger brother, the rajah muda, on a journey home across the Sulu Sea to Lahad Datu.

Abraham J. Idjirani, spokesman of the sultan, said earlier that Kiram III issued a royal decree to the crown prince, and those who want to join in the journey to Sabah to assert "historical truth," meaning the sultan of Sulu's proprietary ownership over the oil-rich island.

Idjirani said the group went there on a peaceful mission and will only react if put on a defensive.

At the meeting, the MNLF leaders also rejected allegations that Misuari had a hand on Kiram III's decision to send his men to Sabah.

"The MNLF has nothing to do with the ongoing Sabah stand-off," it said, because Misuari just came from the 8th Session of the Parliamentary Union of Islamic Cooperation (PUIC) in Khartoum, Sudan, on Jan. 21-22 and on Feb. 6-7 in Cairo, Egypt, for the 12th Session of the Islamic Summit Conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

At the same time, the participants of the leadership meeting held at "Maas Astanah" (Abode of Maas) called on the Malaysian government to settle the Sabah "problem in a fraternal way" to prevent hostility and bloodshed.

The MNLF, they said, is firm on its "peace advocacy as an antidote to war," specially among members of the Islamic Ummah (world Muslim community).

Another appeal was also issued to Malaysia's leader.

"We would like to call on Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak of Malaysia to deal with the problem calmly and insure full respect for the human rights," they added.

They offered the MNLF's mediation in the Sabah dispute.

It is the leadership of the MNLF's "well-established policy" concerning "North Borneo (Sarawak), they re-affirmed, that the problem must be settled between the sultanate as the "rightful owner" and Malaysia "thru the MNLF as recognized by the OIC as the sole legitimate representative of the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao and its islands."

In an exclusive interview with Misuari after the MNLF's meeting in Zamboanga City, he warned Malaysia not to harm "our brothers" in the Sabah standoff.

He appealed to the prime minister to settle the issue through peaceful means.

Just one drop of blood that maybe spilled by the group headed by the rajah muda, and MNLF will come in to help them, he said.

"I hope they will not harm them. They (Kiram's followers) are our brothers. If one drop of their blood is spilled, we might be forced to come to their aid," the MNLF supremo said.

"Please don't touch them, give them a friendly and brotherly treatment," Misuari appealed to the prime minister.

The Sabah standoff has come at a time when the peace process between the Manila government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is on its very crucial stage.

Both parties in the negotiation have been very upbeat recently that a final peace pact is very near, or towards the end of March.

MILF Chairman Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim told Filipino students and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Cairo, Egypt, that only very few issues are still unresolved in the four annexes of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

FAB is the preliminary accord meant as a road map to a Bangsamoro new political entity (NPE) to replace and abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Ebrahim was in Cairo for the same OIC leader's summit that Misuari participated, the MNLF being an observer in the pan-Islamic body.

Government and MILF peace panels were scheduled to resume negotiation in Malaysia in the last week of February for the 36th Round of Formal Exploratory Talks.

They will attempt to resolve the remaining issues in power sharing, wealth sharing, modalities and arrangement, and normalization.

Although the issues are very few, nevertheless they form the "heart" of the negotiation, a source who did not want his name mention told the Manila Bulletin recently.

These issues, he said, include "internal waters" and taxation.

Malaysia, being a friendly neighbor of the Philippines and third-party facilitator since 2001 of the Mindanao peace process, the government headed by President Benigno S. Aquino III was put in a tight spot by the Sabah standoff.

One Moro observer said that resolving the Sabah ownership issue pushed to the front pages as a result of the "daring adventure" on the decision of Kiram III and his allies from the descendants of the sultan of Sulu has become a "damn if you do, damn if you don't" situation.

It is not far from being caught between the "devil and the blue sea," he said.