Payments to Sulu Sultan not 'rent', Malaysia says

·Kim Arveen Patria
The self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III announces he is ordering his followers in the Malaysian state of Sabah to declare a ceasefire at his home in Manila on March 7, 2013. Clashes between Filipino militants loyal to the sultan and security forces in Borneo have left 60 people dead up to Thursday evening, including 52 of the armed intruders, according to Malaysian police

Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Minister denied statements that his government pays the Sulu Sultanate rent for Sabah, as he stressed that the country will not compromise its claim on the disputed territory.

The payment of about P70,000 a year is not for rental but a fulfillment of a contract made more than a century ago for the Sabah's handover, Malaysia Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said.

"It is not payment for rent, but as cession," Malaysian media quoted Anifah as saying.

"The 1878 agreement between Alfred Dent and Baron von Overbeck of the British North Borneo Company and the sultan of Sulu at that time stated that the sultan of Sulu ceded the region of North Borneo permanently, and the heir is entitled to receive annual payment of 5,300 Mexican Pesos," Anifah added.

TIMELINE OF THE SABAH CRISIS

The official made the statement amid reports that Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III is claiming "rental payments" as proof that the Sultanate's claim on Sabah is legitimate.

Kiram's followers, who had staked out in Lahad Datu in Sabah since Feb. 9, have clashed with Malaysian forces.

The Sulu Sultan on Thursday declared a unilateral ceasefire, a call supported by the United Nations but which Malaysia ignored.

Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razakas instead reiterated his demand for the armed Filipino group to lay down arms as soon as possible.

"We have never [recognized] any outside claims that Sabah does not belong to Malaysia and these claims are non-negotiable," Anifah was further quoted as saying.

The Sulu Sultanate has been fighting a centuries-old battle for Sabah.

Historical accounts said Sultan of Brunei in 1704 granted Sabah (North Borneo) to the Sulu Sultanate for its help in quelling a rebellion.

Control over the territory has changed hands many times over the centuries, however, due to aggressive colonization and also through agreements entered into by the Sulu Sultanate.

Among these agreements is a 1878 agreement with Alfred Dent and Baron von Overbeck of the British North Borneo Company.

However, the Sulu Sultan who signed the contract, Mohammed Jamalul Alam, had said the territory was not ceded to the British but was only leased under threat of attack.

Philippine leaders over the years intermittently supported the claim to Sabah which, if indeed were the Sultanate's, would be part of the national territory.

Related story: Kiram, followers will face charges says De Lima

Former President Ferdinand Marcos in 1977 announced that the Philippines is dropping the claim to Sabah in an attempt to facilitate the formation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Laws have also been amended supposedly to satisfy Malaysia's demands to remove Sabah from the Philippines' national territory.

One such legislation was the Archipelagic Baselines of the Philippines Law (Republic Act 9522), which hoped to amend an earlier baseline law, R.A. 5446.

The Supreme Court in a 2011 decision, however, said the R.A. 9522 did not repeal R.A. 5466 and that the Philippine claim over Sabah can therefore be pursued.

But amid the standoff that has turned violent over the past week, Malacanang only said that it is again looking into the Sabah claim.

President Benigno Aquino III also slammed moves made by the Sulu Sultanate for endangering lives and ties between Philippines and Malaysia.

He has meanwhile urged Kiram's followers to surrender without condition.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Monday flew to Malaysia to ask for maximum tolerance for the Filipino group.

"Let me stress that there will be no compromise of our country's sovereignty and integrity," Malaysia Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah was quoted as saying.

"Both Najib and President (Benigno) Aquino want it solved in the best way, thus agreed that we will work out the best diplomatic way to end it," he said further.

The Philippine Department of Justice on Thursday said charges will be filed against Kiram and his followers.

Malaysian authorities meanwhile floated the possibility of flying the Sulu Sultan to the neighboring country despite the absence of an extradition treaty.

"This is a challenge that we have to face together and be united to safeguard the sovereignty of our country and eliminate personal gains for the benefit of our future generations," Anifah said.

Related slideshow: The Sulu Sultan's supporters