FELDA SAHABAT – Malaysia rejected yesterday a ceasefire offer by Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, with the country’s defense minister vowing to “destroy all the militants” unless they surrender “unconditionally.”
“Don’t believe the ceasefire offer by Jamalul Kiram. In the interest of Sabahans and all Malaysians, wipe out all the militants first,” Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on his Tweeter feed.
Kiram had declared a unilateral ceasefire at 12:30 p.m., calling for reciprocation from Malaysia, whose armed forces are hunting his armed followers.
Kiram sent his followers – mostly Tausugs – from their homes across the Sulu Sea to assert an ancestral claim to Sabah. A major Malaysian offensive last Tuesday left dozens dead.
Clashes between the sultan’s followers and Malaysian forces have left 60 people dead as of last night, according to Malaysian police chief Ismail Omar.
By 3 p.m. Wednesday, he said 32 Filipinos were killed in two confrontations. Eight Malaysian policemen died in earlier skirmishes last week.
Jamalul’s ceasefire call came after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged a peaceful resolution to the standoff, considered as Malaysia’s biggest security crisis in years.
The ceasefire call also coincided with a sudden visit to Sabah by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to inspect security operations.
Najib’s government had tried for three weeks to persuade the Filipinos to leave, but launched a military assault Tuesday after they continually refused and engaged security forces in a pair of deadly shootouts.
Cessation of hostilities
To Malaysia’s rejection of his ceasefire offer, Kiram’s response was to declare a “cessation of hostilities.”
“We are going to declare a cessation of hostilities in positive response to the call of the United Nations and to the reaction of the government of the Federation of Malaysia rejecting the unilateral ceasefire declared by the sultanate of Sulu unless what the Malaysian government said, the militants in Lahad Datu, referring to the Sulu royal forces, will surrender,” said his spokesman Abraham Idjirani.
“The Malaysian government, in complete rejection of the UN call, demanded that prior to its recognition of this unilateral ceasefire made by the Sultanate of Sulu must surrender the militants to them,” he added.
“In response to that, the Sultanate of Sulu is now declaring unilaterally a cessation of hostilities.”
He said a ceasefire should convince Malaysia to stop its assault and sit down for negotiation with the sultanate as encouraged by the UN.
“What we are doing is in compliance with the call of the United Nations,” Idjirani said, adding that he informed the sultan’s brother Agbimuddin of the declaration of “cessation of hostilities” at past 4 p.m. yesterday.
Should Malaysia’s rejection of the ceasefire offer result in more deaths, the UN would have to take action, Idjirani said.
He also said the sultanate is willing to swap captives with the Malaysian security forces who are in custody of 10 members of the so-called royal sultanate army.
Kiram’s civilian supporters, according to Idjirani, are in custody of four Malaysian officials.
Idjirani said a prisoner swap should be made in the presence of media as well as representatives of international humanitarian organizations.
“We will ask them (civilians holding Malaysians), we will compel them to follow the mandate of the United Nations,” he said. “I would like to emphasize that this will be done with the intercession of the Philippine government.”
He also said Malaysia’s rejection of their ceasefire offer could still be considered a “positive development” because it showed that Kuala Lumpur “is also listening to the Sultanate of Sulu.” Such gesture is no sign of weakness on the part of Malaysia, he stressed. With Mike Frialde, Jaime Laude