MANILA, MARCH 11, 2013
(PHILSTAR) By Pia Lee-Brago  - United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called yesterday for an end to violence in Sabah, where clashes between Malaysian forces and armed followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III have left up to 60 people dead. 

The UN chief also said he “encourages dialogue among all the parties for a peaceful resolution of the situation.”

“He urges all parties to facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance and act in full respect of international human rights norms and standards,” Ban’s spokesperson said in a statement.

Kiram declared a unilateral ceasefire in response to Ban’s call. Although Malaysia rejected a ceasefire, Kiram declared a “cessation of hostilities.” He told his followers to end the fighting and urged Malaysia to stop attacking positions of his “royal sultanate army.”

The sultan urged Malaysia to reciprocate his action in the name of Islamic tolerance.

He asked his brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, to take a defensive stand in Lahad Datu.

Agbimuddin led some 300 men – some armed – across the Sulu Sea to settle in Sabah and assert sovereignty over the territory.

Despite Malaysia’s rejection of Kiram’s ceasefire offer, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippine government would continue to explore ways to prevent further bloodshed and loss of livelihood.

“Our aim has not changed. We will explore all possibilities to save lives and avoid bloodshed. The suggestion of a unilateral ceasefire (appears) to be one of the options,” the DFA said in a statement.

Malaysia ignored on Tuesday the Philippines’ request for maximum tolerance in dealing with Kiram’s followers and launched on the same day massive ground and air assault on the Filipinos in Lahad Datu.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario flew to Kuala Lumpur on Monday to personally convey the Philippines’ request to his Malaysian counterpart Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman and to continue discussions on how to avert further loss of lives.

His requests included the establishment by Malaysia of a “safety corridor” for the children, women and civilians not involved in the hostility between the sultan’s followers and Malaysian authorities.

The DFA said Malaysia was considering the request but had not issued an official response.

Another Philippine request was for Malaysia to allow a humanitarian ship to dock in Lahad Datu.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) welcomed the UN’s entering the picture.

“We are very happy because this has been our repeated call, appealing for the intervention of the United Nations,” said Habib Mujahab Hashim, MNLF’s Islamic Command Council (ICC) chairman.

Hashim also appealed to the MNLF forces preparing to cross over to Sabah to abandon their plan.

“We appeal to our brothers to immediately stand down any of its action and those who have intent to reinforce not to go,” Hashim said.

Peacekeepers needed

With Malaysia’s rejection of the Sulu sultanate’s ceasefire offer, the UN should consider deploying peacekeeping forces in Sabah to prevent further bloodshed, the MNLF also said.

“We are hoping the UN will deploy a buffer force,” MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said in a text message to The STAR.

He said that the sultanate’s forces may be forced to fight back if Malaysian forces try to finish them off once and for all.

He said such campaign by Malaysian forces would be very costly because the sultanate’s forces were trained in real battle in Mindanao, as many of them had fought the Philippine government as members of the MNLF.

Furthermore, they know the terrain of Sabah, having trained in the territory for decades.

“They’re used to dealing with jet fighters as well as ground and naval bombardments and the only way to end the fighting is for both parties to sit down and talk,” Fontanilla said, adding that Malaysia would be facing a bigger security problem if it refuses to talk peace with the sultanate.

He said the same thing should also be expected by the Aquino administration for its “mishandling” of the Sabah conflict.

Malaysia said it would only agree to a ceasefire if the sultanate’s fighters surrender unconditionally.

“Surrender? It’s unacceptable. They will fight to the death. For the Tausug fighters it’s victory or graveyard,” Fontanilla said.

Another MNLF official who declined to be named said that with the turn of events, Lahad Datu is emerging as a guerilla front.

“Sabah is going to be a real headache for the Malaysians. The Malaysians have opened an insurgency problem in Sabah by firing the first shot,” the MNLF official said.

He also said that if Malaysia is really winning in the frontline, it should immediately lift the news blackout and let the world know the real score. With Roel Pareño, Jaime Laude


War clouds over Asia? By Alejandro Del Rosario | Posted on Mar. 09, 2013 at 12:01am

Lost in the current crisis of the Sabah hostilities is a far more disconcerting development in Asia. The ominous war clouds hanging over the East China Sea has raised global concern. President & CEO, a global publication for executives, flagged two recent incidents between historical enemies China and Japan, including the threat of North Korea to scrap the 1953 armistice with South Korea.

For sure, the Philippines and Malaysia as members of the Association of Southeast Nations will find the space and time when the dust clears to repair the damage done by the intrusion of the Sultan of Sulu’s followers in Lahad Datu.

The episode is nearing its denouement but it will surely have repercussions when the Sultan’s followers vent their frustration in the Philippines’ own backyard. How President Benigno Aquino III will handle this equation in his quest for peace in Mindanao will have to be dealt with soon. It can no longer be relegated to the back burner.

In another part of Asia, tension is running high over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Island dispute between Japan and China. To think that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard hailed the coming years as the Asian Century in light of the European and American economic travails while China and other Asian economies were enjoying a period of prosperity.

All it takes for dark clouds to hang over the region, it seems, are squabbling over what some see as nothing but “a bunch of rocks” and a few uninhabited atolls. The reason runs deep beneath the South China Sea‘s potential oil, gas and mineral resources..

Near-skirmishes between Chinese and Japanese jet fighters in the disputed area , the President & CEO publication warned , could set off an armed confrontation between the two economic powers. The Japanese are incensed the Chinese put a radar lock on one of its ships patrolling the Senkakus. A radar lock is preparatory to firing a guided missile on an intended target. All it needs is a thumb on the trigger for all hell to break loose.

The incident prompted a diplomatic protest by Tokyo and to summon the Chinese ambassador, who denied that the hostile act happened.

The widening ripple created by the Chinese-Japanese row could drag the Philippines and Vietnam, which are strongly contesting China’s sweeping South China Sea claim.

It would do well for both China and Japan to heed philosopher George Santayana’s words that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

This is more than just a cautionary tale. Japan was driven to war by its ambition to establish hegemony in East Asia and the Pacific. Not endowed by natural resources, Japan needed oil and other raw materials for its industrialization. Led by the militarists of that era, they convinced the Emperor war was necessary for its survival. The rest is history.

China, in its present circumstances, needs to fuel its factories. To maintain its strong economy and feed a population of 1.3 billion, China needs new sources of oil, gas and mineral possibly under the South China Sea.

China has surpassed the United States as the world’s largest net importer of oil, consuming 6.12 million barrels a day more than the US’ 5.98 b/d. This is a significant equation in the geopolitics of oil.

China’s aggressive moves in the South and East China Sea, are seen also to stoke nationalist sentiment. It needs a unifying element to distract its young population from demanding reforms.

A large population of young people, now tech-savvy and no longer preoccupied with simply earning a livelihood, poses an internal problem for the Chinese leadership which cannot contemplate another Tiananmen Square uprising.

Channeling the youth’s energy to serve the state, the Chinese leadership allowed, if not orchestrated, frenzied mobs to attack Japanese business establishments across China at the height of the Senkaku-Diaoyu territorial dispute. The ensuing boycott of Japanese products sent Japanese business reeling. It became unpatriotic to own and buy Japanese products like Sony, Nikon, Toyota, Nissan and Honda, to name a few. South Korea which has a counterpart product for all the Japanese brand names filled the void left by the Japanese.

But the Chinese mob rampage and China’s hostile acts over Senkaku also triggered a counter force in Japan. It gave Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ultra-nationalist government a window for amending the Japanese constitution allowing Japan to rearm.

With the two Koreas constantly on war footing, a Japanese rearmament and an Asian arms race would have an unsettling effect on the region’s stability. It can only be good for the faltering weapons trade of the West’s military industrial complex.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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