Anwar Ibrahim

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Anwar Ibrahim

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GRIM REAPER already at Umno’s Sabah door: Stop pointing fingers at Anwar

Posted: 18 Mar 2013 12:55 AM PDT

Malaysia Chronicle

UMNO should stop politicising the Lahad Datu fiasco. The country has lost 10 patriotic warriors leaving the family members grieving. The total death toll in the fighting is now almost reaching 70.

The 2013 Lahad Datu standoff arose after about 235 militants, many of whom were armed, arrived by boats in Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia from Simunul Island, Tawi-Tawi in Southern Philippines on 11 February 2013. According to some analysts, this incursion happened very much earlier undetected by the military intelligence.

The group, calling themselves the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” was sent by Jamalul Kiram III, one of the claimants to the throne of the Sultanate of Sulu. Kiram held that their goal was to affirm their unsettled territorial claim to eastern Sabah – the former North Borneo.

The issue of who "owns" Sabah has never been definitively and formally resolved. According to the Sultan Jamalul Kiram III – one among the many heirs of the Sultan of Sulu responsible for sending the "intruders" to occupy Lahad Datu – he claims that Sabah belongs to them and that it's time for them to have their homeland back. But Malaysia claims otherwise: Sabah is legally theirs.

In such a situation, it looks like Manila – for their internal political expediency – may not anymore exhibit ASEAN spirit and solidarity by officially dropping all claims to Sabah.

A grim reminder to Malaysia

Critics have blamed the government for not being able to handle the intruders that led to the loss of lives to our army personnel and police officers. Pollicising the issue is making them none the wiser. Politicians do not seem to be united and focussed on how to end this noxious affair; instead they are bickering over the issue non-stop.

For UMNO leaders and UMNO media to ruthlessly attack the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, for the fiasco is very unfortunate indeed. They seem to have lost the plot here. They are exploiting the Sabah debacle for their own failure and their own political expediency and this is backfiring on them.

Not all the intruders have been killed or captured. Those who have escaped must have left the state or blended with the community. Revenge on their part cannot be ruled out. These people form South Philippines have the record of taking revenge in their country of origin. It's their inherent trait to be vindictive. And down in Sabah they have people of their ethnic group who will sympathise with them.

The decades of war between the Moros and Manila have claimed more than 100 000 lives and destroyed the economy of Southern Philippines. This must be a grim reminder to Malaysia.

There are thousands of Filipinos now living in Sabah – most are given Malaysian citizenship and are UMNO members. Weeding out the bad from the good now is near impossible. It's just unmanageable for the government now to identify who among them are truly loyal to the country.

Sheer arrogance

Najib Abdul Razak feels that the Opposition has no place to work with them in resolving the matter. This must be a sign of sheer arrogance on his part. Convening an emergency parliamentary session on the ongoing clash in Sabah in order to form "a united front" transcending political parties and pay tribute to servicemen killed in the line of duty does not seem to his priority.

It looks like Najib is against the idea of all political parties uniting under one platform as one people on the Sabah Sulu crisis. "We know best" seems to be his stand right now and the media is unfairly used to implicate the role of Opposition members on what is happening in Lahad Datu.

If Najib's intention is to gain some brownie points for his political survival from this debacle he must be gravely wrong. His popularity has dipped further with this latest tragedy. The people feel that he has not handled the matter commendably as the country's leader.

Using the media to politicise the issue has only earned the wrath of the people. The airing of the incomplete "lyrics" sung by Anwar Ibrahim during his political campaigns is solely intended to hoodwink the people that it's all because of Anwar that Lahad Datu was invaded or that "Sabah is going to be lost".

This unnecessary propaganda is backfiring as many viewers opine that this is further wounding the people, especially those who have lost their loved ones in the Lahad Datu conflict.

A 36-year-old bank officer in Kuala Lumpur has this to say: "Just imagine those who have lost their loved ones in the conflict listening to the lines and other government propaganda against the Opposition. This must be insulting to the intelligence of the people."

Another officer popped in to say: "The motive here is to politicise the whole issue, thinking of the coming election more than those combatants in the war field fighting the intruders." "They keep on blaming the Opposition all because of their own failure. This propaganda will further disrupt those suffering in the war fields and those who have lost their loved ones," she added.

A student in a local public university has this to say: "UMNO leaders are unwise. They just do not know how to calm down the feelings of those who have lost their loved ones. They are politicising more than handling the whole issue professionally."

"UMNO is more interested in bashing the Opposition leaders for political reasons than to seeing an amicable solution to the Sabah issue now," he added.

Cannot afford to lose more

We have lost 10 patriotic heroes in the Lahad Datu mess. The end to the turmoil is yet to be seen. As Malaysians we cannot afford to lose more of our security personnel.

Blaming Anwar Ibrahim for meeting Nurallaj Misuari is a cheap political gimmick created by UMNO to sidetrack the real issue. Misuari – the leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) – was the 3rd Governor of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (1996–2002) and was a friend of all Malaysian leaders. Most UMNO leaders have met him before and this is a non-issue at all.

Even if there were rumblings that Nur Misuari had an eye for Sabah it could not be a drive that was pushed by any Malaysian leader. Ask any Filipino out there and they would say "Sabah is theirs". And ask any Malaysian, they would say: "Sabah is ours".

History has it this way: In 1967, Operation Merdeka was initiated by the late President Ferdinand Marcos. The main goal then was to annex Sabah for the Philippines. The legal rationale for the operation was the claim of the Sultan of Sulu and his heirs to Sabah. The Sultan's heirs insist that the land still belong to them.

They trust that it was simply leased (padjak) to the British East India Company in 1878 and was illegally transferred by the British in 1963, when it became part of the Federation of Malaysia. The heirs of the Sultan of Sulu gave the then President Marcos the mandate to reclaim Sabah as part of the country.

Plotting to invade Sabah is not something new. Reports say that they had the Operation Merdeka at one time in the 60s', when the Suluk and Tausug and the Moros were recruited and trained by the Armed Forces of the Philippines for specialised training in covert operations. Their command was to disrupt military installations and key infrastructures in Sabah for the subsequent invasion by the Philippines.

This operation however bungled when the recruits abandoned the idea of transgressing Sabah. However, The Philippines government till this day has never ditched the historical claim of the Sultanate of Sulu on Sabah.

The trained Moros

Malaysian political strategists had the impression that the country could depend on the Moros in case of a military conflict with the Philippines, as the Moros then were willing to disobey orders to battle with Malaysia. So Malaysia's best lines of defence against a Philippines annexation of Sabah were the Moros at one time.

According to reports, the training and equipping the Moros to fight for a separate homeland (secession of Mindanao from Manila) became an implicit state policy. Malaysia expedited the military training of Moros beginning 1969 with the help of Libya, who provided the financial assistance and military equipment.

There were military bases for the Moros within Malaysia – stationed in peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak. The trained Moros later became the core of the MNLF. The Moros were trained to become a "buffer entity" against the Philippine claim over Sabah.

The threat of Sabah annexing Sabah was a non-issue then as long as MNLF did not co-operate with the Philippine Government. But today the Moros are no longer the first line of defence against Philippine annexation of Sabah that Malaysia depended on.

Malaysia can no longer rely on the Moros to provide the same buffer zone against Philippine's possibility of annexing Sabah – a buffer zone that the Moros liberally provided since the late 1960s.

Close ally of UMNO and USNO

It was in 1968 that Muslims in Mindanao organised a Muslim Independence Movement (MIM) demanding the absolute secession of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan regions from Manila. Leaders of MIM subsequently formed the MNLF in 1969 – the military wing of the secessionist movement headed by Misuari. Misuari then was a very close ally of UMNO and also USNO leaders in Sabah.

The movement split into two factions in 1977 due to ideological differences – the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the MNLF. These secessionist groups and the Philippine Government went through major conflicts that decimated more than 100,000 people and caused huge destruction to the economy of Southern Philippines.

This enfeebled the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) possibly much to the joy of Malaysia. Malaysia erroneously thought that they had neutralised the threat of Sabah annexation by simply supporting the Moro secessionist movements from 1968 to 1972.

It is their homeland

However, the close relationship between Malaysia and the Moros was dazed on 12 February 2013, when a group numbering around 235 claiming to be the Royal Sulu Sultanate Army landed in Lahad Datu village in Sabah, declaring that they will not leave Sabah because "it is their own homeland".

There are many implications of the Sabah incursion.

It cannot be Anwar or Najib who are working behind the scene. Photos of them appearing with some Muslim leaders from Southern Philippines cannot be construed that there was a "conspiracy" involving them that led to the Sabah incursion.

The main players actually are all from the Philippines.

The two mistakes the Malaysian government has made though were firstly, accommodating thousands of Muslim Filipinos to be in Sabah thinking that they are Muslims and they would not fight Malaysia. Many were given citizenship, allowed to live in Sabah and most became UMNO members.

Secondly, they never thought that by comforting MILF and Manila they had offended the MNLF. MNLF was side tracked in the peace-agreement signed on 12 October 2012 between Manila and MILF and also the issue of the Sulu Sultanate was not part of the agreement package. Thus this must have angered these two groups, especially the latter.

Their plan now is to derail the final peace agreement between the MILF and the Philippine Government and oust President Aquino from office. And this could be the two main reasons of the Sabah incursion. Of course their claim over Sabah would remain intact.

Individuals backing Sultan

According to reports, some influential individuals backing Sultan Jamalul Kiram III are allies of ex-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – President Aquino's political nemesis – such as Norberto Gonzales, the former National Security Adviser and a close friend of the Sultan. They were alleged by the Aquino Administration to have played a role.

Misuari who is aligned to MNLF is also alleged to be one of the players in the plot to occupy Lahad Datu as he is aligned to Arroyo's political faction and not Aquino's. They have however fervidly denied any involvement in the incursion. Nevertheless, they still profess support for the claim of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

There were also allegations that Prime Minister Najib was responsible for "staging" this incursion. There were also counter allegations that Anwar, the leader of the Opposition coalition in Malaysia, was a conniver in the Sabah incursion. Both Najib and Anwar have denied vehemently any involvement in this.

According to analysts, it's just preposterous for any patriotic Malaysian to have tacitly collaborated with any Filipino leader or the intruders. The possibility is high that the intruders must have conspired with some Filipino leaders and have the tacit support of those Filipinos living in Sabah who have been "invited" to take Malaysia as their home.

Some of the Lahad Datu intruders were found to be carrying Malaysian MyKads and they were also UMNO members. One main figure or master mind of the incursion even worked as an assistant district officer in Sabah at one time.

If to influence the outcome of the Malaysian 13th general election is the reason for allowing the intrusion to occur, this does not make sense at all. Both the sitting government and the Opposition would gain nothing from this kind of enemy infiltration.

But in the Philippines, the Sabah incursion has popular support from Filipinos and this can affect the outcome of their mid-term elections to be held before June 2103. If politics is the reason, then it has to be the politics of the Philippines, not Malaysia.

Unfortunately, Malaysia is now being unwittingly caught by the political schemes in the Philippines.

Must be repatriated

The Sabah incursion should see a new role of the Malaysian government. There has to be tighter border controls and the eviction of Filipino migrants living in Sabah. Those given "instant IC and living in Sabah or other parts of Malaysia must be stripped off their citizenship and repatriated to their country of origin.

Malaysia and Indonesia too have faced some skirmishes over border issues in that region in the past and she cannot be so sure that history does not repeat when matters turn awry, especially when there are thousands of Indonesian illegals and migrants who are given "instant ICs" living in Sabah.

Prevention is always better than cure. Malaysia – a small country with a population of about 28 million – has porous borders with the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. Confrontations with any of these countries will not be advantageous to Malaysia.

As with the Philippines and Malaysia now there has to be a diplomatic and conclusive solution to the Sabah claim. All stakeholders – the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, the Malaysian Government (which should include the Opposition) and the Republic of the Philippines – will have to sit and negotiate diplomatically to resolve the claim once and for all.

UMNO should stop pointing fingers at Anwar for the unexpected turn of events to sidetrack the real issue facing Sabah. The situation in Sabah now is all because of the Malaysian government's unexpected strategies in the past that went off beamed.

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