Intrusion confusion – A farcical invasion of Borneo gets serious, and nasty

The Economist
Mar 9th 2013

FIGHTER aircraft gave covering fire as Malaysian troops mounted what their government hoped would be the final assault on a coastal village in the Malaysian state of Sabah, on the island of Borneo, on March 5th. Their mission was to end a three-week-old incursion by scores of Filipinos, some armed, who call themselves the Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu. But the intruders slipped away.

The intruders had occupied the village to stake a claim to Sabah by the man they recognise as the sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III, whose forebears once held sway over parts of Borneo and of what is now the Philippines, but who himself is a Filipino citizen living in Manila. After the assault, the sultan called for a ceasefire, but told his followers to stay put. If the Malaysian government thought the assault would end the incursion, it was mistaken. Its mistake is one of a series which threatens to turn what originally had the air of a quaint historical pageant played out with live ammunition into a real guerrilla war.

The Philippine government made the first mistake three years ago, by mislaying a letter from the sultanate asking it to take into account the claim to Sabah in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a rebel group that had been fighting for independence for Muslim areas in the south of the mainly Christian Philippines. Previous governments had pressed the sultan’s claim. More recent governments have let it lie dormant, not least because Malaysia is the broker of peace between the government and the MILF. A preliminary peace agreement signed last year makes no mention of the claim. The sultan was slighted.

The sultan made the next mistake, by thinking that by seizing the Sabah village of Tanduo, he could make the Malaysian government take him seriously and negotiate. The sultan’s claim is legally plausible: Malaysia pays the royal house of Sulu a token rent for Sabah. But the idea that Malaysia would turn one of its constituent states over to a foreigner is just fanciful. The Philippines government has also ordered the sultan to withdraw his followers.

On March 1st shooting broke out in Tanduo. It is not clear who fired first, but 12 intruders and two Malaysian policemen were killed. A day later, in fighting elsewhere in Sabah between the security forces and armed men described by the Malaysian authorities as Filipinos, six policemen and six gunmen were killed.

This snapped the patience of the Malaysian government, and the assault on Tanduo began. The security forces said they had killed 13 intruders, and suffered no casualties themselves. As The Economist went to press, the sultan’s followers were still at large. An official of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), another Philippine Muslim rebel group, which made peace in 1996 but was never disarmed, said many of its fighters, acting independently, were on the way to Sabah as reinforcements. A Malaysian police officer described the Filipino gunmen as adept at guerrilla tactics. The Malaysian government may now look at the 800,000 Filipinos living and working in Sabah and wonder whose side they are on.

It will also wonder how the stand-off will affect a keenly contested general election due by the end of June. Some think Sabah is where the poll will be won or lost. The government has dropped dark hints of the involvement of a Malaysian opposition leader in the invasion. But, if the mess worsens, it might lose votes itself.

  1. #1 by boh-liao on Friday, 8 March 2013 - 10:06 am

    “If the Malaysian government thought the @ssault would end the incursion, it was mistaken.” & “into a real guerrilla war” & “the 800,000 Filipinos living and working in Sabah”

    Scary remarks – What abt those living and working in ALL d other states & WP? R they d Sultan’s army/agents?

    TIME will tell …… peace or chaos fr time 2 time (unfortunately 4 all of us, d SEED of chaos, discontent, or vengeance has been sown)
    We r NOT dealing with ppl who will give us their right cheek when we slap their left cheek; heard of ‘an eye 4 an eye’ or worse ‘2 eyes 4 an eye’?

    “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Mahatma Gandhi

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Friday, 8 March 2013 - 10:37 am

    People should not scare themselves. The current real Moro leaders don’t support the Sulu Sultanate, much less the Kirams, otherwise they would have gave them a bigger role in their Bangsamoro deal. The truth is the current Moro leaders are in competition with the likes of Kirams in ARMM. Nur Missuari influence has been waning for a while now and its because he is waning that he has latched on to this too..

    There are no thousands coming into Sabah to fight – at best a few more hundred maybe, enough to cause further problems but not anything lasting…

  3. #3 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Friday, 8 March 2013 - 11:43 am

    800,000 filipinos in sabah? Only 800,000? Given umno’s special ability to conceal the truth, I would not be surprised if the real figure is actually much much higher. Maybe 1m; or even more.

    First time bumiputras (i.e. those freshly baked ones using the Monster Brand bumi baking machine say 10-20 yrs ago or earlier) may in all likelihood have carried out their duties loyally and voted umno in past GEs.

    But today these no-longer-fresh bumiputras would face precisely the same economic and financial pressure like the rest of us as a direct result of umno’s greed and corrupt ways, wonton abuse, incompetency and gross mismanagement of the country’s economy. In other words, like us, these baked bumis too could be just as disgruntled with umno as we are. There is no guarantee that today they will remain loyal to umno. This is a real problem to umno.

    Further, the sulu intrusion complicates matter terribly for umno. You see, the problem I mentioned actually could be countered quite simply by putting the Monster Brand bumi baking machine into overdrive. In other words, bake more fresh and compliant bumis to negate the no-longer-fresh and no-longer-compliant ones.

    But then the sulu sultan decided to carry out an armed intrusion and made an claim for sabah. Law and logic demands that the intruders be eliminated immediately. But umno cannot risk doing that. There are 800,000 filipinos in sabah (may be more). A large number of them have voting right. Umno just cannot risk antagonising these ppl and losing their votes by whacking the sulu intruders (who are also filipinos).

    In the end umno I say would end up shooting and bombing its own foot. Yes. Again.

  4. #4 by Loh on Friday, 8 March 2013 - 1:21 pm

    ///The sultan made the next mistake, by thinking that by seizing the Sabah village of Tanduo, he could make the Malaysian government take him seriously and negotiate. The sultan’s claim is legally plausible: Malaysia pays the royal house of Sulu a token rent for Sabah.///–the author

    Now that Sulu has fought a war and lost, there is no need to continue paying the token rent.

  5. #5 by vsp on Friday, 8 March 2013 - 4:14 pm

    The Malaysian government may now look at the 800,000 Filipinos living and working in Sabah and wonder whose side they are on.


    Have you heard the proverb, “Blood is thicker than water”? No matter what role religion plays, relationships and loyalties within a family are the strongest and most important ones. This is where the mastermind of Project IC made a fatal mistake. Mahathir thinks that he is heads over others in understanding human nature. But as events have proven he is an imbecile in human relationship. He couldn’t choose and work well together with his 5 successive deputies. His works, the Malay Dilemma is a piece of hogwash in social engineering in that he made the Malays even more vulnerable. He couldn’t differentiate between cash price and contract price and got the country cheated of billions of dollars in the Port Klang scandal. And this half-past-six “school boy” has been ruling the country for 22 years and meshed up royally by destroying all the vital institutions of the country.

    Mahathir’s stupidity will haunt Malaysia for a long, long time. Now it’s the Filipino Sulus; the next time a more formidable torn-in-the-flesh nemesis will be the Indonesians.

  6. #6 by vsp on Friday, 8 March 2013 - 4:20 pm

    torn-in-the-flesh nemesis —> thorn-in-the-flesh nemesis

  7. #7 by Sallang on Friday, 8 March 2013 - 4:56 pm

    Today, ‘The Sun’ reported another 11,700 Bangladeshis will be coming to out shores on March 27th, under a Government to government arrangement.
    Question is,’Why can’t they wait until election is over?’
    Will they be using MyCard to vote in Selangor?

  8. #8 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Friday, 8 March 2013 - 6:14 pm

    Banglas coming by arraangement – gobermen to gobermen? OMG! I suspect the arrangement would involve giving them citizenship and voting rights. No?

  9. #9 by worldpress on Friday, 8 March 2013 - 8:46 pm

    Strike off the Mama title then send him to talk to Sabah folks with no guards…we see what happen?

  10. #10 by worldpress on Friday, 8 March 2013 - 9:04 pm

    Please do not call him Sultan…it is self-claimed

  11. #11 by cseng on Friday, 8 March 2013 - 10:38 pm

    You have this MNLF, then the spin off, the MILF, abu sayaff, now this sultanate of sulu, then this Bangsamoro, what next? Apperently they tried to claim sabah is their… no end and very messy, everybody is fighting for their own interest.

    Why their followers would volunteeraly die for them? Why? What for? Straight to heaven?

  12. #12 by Noble House on Saturday, 9 March 2013 - 4:30 am

    One man’s vision becomes the nightmare for the whole nation where ordinary Malaysians are the ones sipping antoxidant teas, living in some fantasia from his past labor where the fruits are now in abundance. Ah, now we get it. Either he is a canting moron or a dangerous demagogue.

  13. #13 by chengho on Saturday, 9 March 2013 - 4:53 am

    from PAS supporter , ABCD

  14. #14 by Winston on Saturday, 9 March 2013 - 10:09 am

    Let’s get one thing straight!
    Giving citizenship for votes is a downright no-brainer!
    The fact is that giving such a massive number of foreigners citizenship will give them leverage over the government.
    Yes, the giver can penalise them if they were to refuse to vote for their candidates.
    But can it revoke their citizenship and send them back to their country of origin for this act?
    With such a huge number of them in the country, they can threaten the security of the country, to say the least!
    This will eventually be a real hot potato for whichever party that will be in Putrajaya.
    This is what a Chinese proverb says: Once you have mounted the back of a tiger, it will be very difficult to get off!!
    This is what traitorous acts have done to the country.

  15. #15 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Saturday, 9 March 2013 - 11:53 am

    Sultan chengho.

    Hows dat boys?


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