Malaysia urged to extend Tuesday deadline
MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - A cousin of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram has reportedly been arrested by Malaysian police in the island of Sabah, Malaysia.
Salib Asaral, the sultan's cousin, is currently detained in the town of Lahad Datu, where over a hundred of the sultan's followers arrived by sea last February 9 to claim the island.
The Kiram clan confirmed Monday night that Salib has been arrested by Malaysian security forces.
The Philippines has sent a mercy ship to pick up scores of followers of Kiram who entered the Malaysian state of Sabah to press his territorial claims.
The "humanitarian ship" departed the southern-most Philippine island province of Tawi-Tawi before midnight and headed to Lahad Datu on Borneo island, where dozens of followers of Kiram have been locked in a tense stand-off with Malaysian authorities for two weeks.
The Filipinos have been holed up in a small coastal area of Lahad Datu town, where they have remained surrounded by security forces since February 12 as they pursue their claim to settle in the state, which used to be a part of the Sultanate of Sulu.
"As we have stated on countless occasions previously, we call on the entire group to go back to their homes and families, even at the same time, we are addressing the core issues they have raised," Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement on Sunday.
"Please do so for your own safety," he added.
Aboard the mercy ship were Filipino Muslim leaders, social workers and medical personnel, del Rosario's statement said, stressing that the government "was deeply concerned" about the presence of women among the group.
The Philippines informed Malaysia through its embassy in Manila of the move on Saturday, it added.
Del Rosario's statement said the group numbered some 180, with 30 armed escorts, although the sultan's spokesman, Abraham Idjirani, last week put the figure at 400, including 20 bearing arms.
Idjirani said the sultan had given the Filipinos his blessing to reside in Sabah and they were determined to resist efforts to expel them.
The Islamic Sultanate of Sulu once controlled parts of Borneo, including the site of the stand-off, as well as southern Philippine islands.
The sultanate leased northern Borneo to Europeans in the 1870s. While the sultanate's authority gradually faded as Western colonial powers exerted their influence over the region, it continued to receive lease payments for Sabah.
Heirs to the sultanate still receive nominal annual compensation from Malaysia under a long-standing agreement. One of the demands from the sultan's followers is an increase in the amount of compensation paid.
On Monday, del Rosario urged Malaysia to extend the Tuesday deadline for the Sultan's followers to leave Sabah.
He met with Malaysian Ambassador to Manila Dato' Mohd Zamri Bin Mohd Kassim to renew Manila's request.
The DFA said the deadline extension is needed to convince the sultan's followers to leave the island voluntarily.
"We had a meeting this morning and we want to know some details regarding what is happening as far as the Filipinos in Sabah are concerned. We are still hoping they will come back to us with official confirmation," DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
Del Rosario also urged Kuala Lumpur to allow the Philippine ship to dock at Lahad Datu to bring food to the Filipinos and fetch those who want to go home.
"The current plan is for that ship to be at the border. The Malaysian government will bring the Filipinos to Lahad Datu to our ship which will be anchored off the border," Hernandez said.
"We sent the ship to Lahad Datu on a humanitarian mission. We are deeply concerned about the presence of five women and other civilians in the group, and we urge them to board the ship without delay and return home," del Rosario said.
"We are getting mixed signals so we asked that Tuesday midnight deadline be officially confirmed," del Rosario said in a text message.
The meeting also tackled the situation of Filipinos in Sabah.
"We were trying to see how we could end this peacefully and expeditiously so we want also to be able to bring our ship close to Lahad Datu for the movement of the people there and to bring them back home and other civilians there. We are trying to convince them to board the ship and go home as soon as possible," Hernandez said. -- with reports from Ron Gagalac and Henry Omaga-Diaz, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse