1,000 MNLF FIGHTERS JOIN KIRAM IN SABAH / NDF-GOVT PEACE TALKS FAILED ANEW
[Thousands of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members displaying their weapons during a rally on the volatile island of Jolo in southern Philippines. According to one of their leaders, some of the battle-hardened Muslim guerrillas have sailed from the Philippines to reinforce followers of a self-proclaimed Filipino sultan who are battling Malaysian forces in the Malaysian state of Sabah. -- PHOTO: AP]
MANILA, MAY 5, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Mike Frialde - Some 1,000 fighters from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have reportedly joined the forces of Agbimuddin Kiram in Sabah to fight the Malaysian security forces in Lahad Datu.
Hajib Mujaha Hashim, chairman of the MNLF’s Islamic Command Council, told The STAR yesterday that the “volunteers” managed to slip through the naval blockade of the Malaysian police and Philippine Navy in going to Sabah to join Kiram’s forces.
“As of today (yesterday), more than 1,000 have slipped though and have reinforced (Kiram) in Sabah,” Hashim said.
“All of the fighters here in Jolo are MNLF but they are there not as MNLF but as volunteers from Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga peninsula,” Hashim added in Filipino.
Hashim said Kiram’s forces could use the MNLF fighters as reinforcement for its guerrilla campaign against the Malaysian security forces.
“They are experienced in guerrilla warfare. They are there not officially as MNLF but we could not prevent MNLF forces from going there and reinforcing the royal army of the sultanate of Sulu in the area,” he said.
Hashim said the Malaysian security forces had not slowed down their manhunt for Kiram’s men although the aerial bombardment has stopped.
“The level of the military operations has not weakened. The mass arrests and deportations continue. This is still bothersome. Although there are no more aerial bombings, the pursuit operations continue,” he said.
Hashim added Kiram’s men have local supporters that are providing food and logistics.
He, however, would not comment on reports that the sultan’s forces are using former MNLF guerrilla bases in Lahad Datu and in nearby areas as hideouts.
Hashim also would not also comment on reports that civilians in the conflict-affected areas of Sabah supporting Kiram’s forces have also taken up arms and have joined the fight.
“It is confidential. But they are getting more support. Supporters are now giving them food. They are better now but they are still on the run. But now that volunteer fighters are joining them, they have already managed to have a controlled area in that part of Sabah. More volunteers would come as they have their own ways of crossing the blockades,” he said.
The MNLF forces in Sulu since last month have been monitored to be training, reportedly in preparation to help the sultan stake their claim in Sabah.
“They have spread out into smaller groups. They have adopted guerrilla tactics,” he said.
Hashim also appealed anew to Malaysia to consider talking with the sultanate of Sulu and end the standoff which began last February.
“This is already taking too long. That is why we have indicated our intention, through the Royal Council of Sharifs of the Sultanate of Sulu, to convince Malaysia to talk. It is very advantageous for Malaysia to sit down and resolve this Sabah standoff and the Sabah claim. It is for the interest of Malaysia and the sultanate of Sulu if they could finally resolve the Sabah issue,” he said. Hashim said the Royal Council of Sharifs of the Sultanate of Sulu, which he heads, is now talking with Malaysia informally to convince it to consider negotiating with the sultanate on the Sabah issue.
“We are trying all avenues both officially and unofficially. We are exhausting all possibilities short of starting a war between the sultanate of Sulu and Malaysia. All Muslims are brothers. This has to be resolved in the Islamic way of resolving conflicts and that has to be with peaceful negotiation,” he said.
Hashim added that they would also possibly be seeking the mediation of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) should Malaysia finally agree to sit down with the Sulu sultanate. – With Roel Pareño
FROM THE INQUIRER
Philippines says communist peace talks have failed Agence France-Presse 3:30 pm | Monday, April 29th, 2013
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines said Monday that peace talks with communist rebels had collapsed and a target of ending the decades-long insurgency by 2016 was impossible to achieve.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s administration is looking for a “new approach” following nearly three years of failed negotiations and a fresh surge in deadly violence, chief government negotiator Alex Padilla told AFP.
INQUIRER FILE PHOTO
“We are at an impasse now. Whether we talk or not, the same violence continues, nothing has changed. So why will we force ourselves to talk?” Padilla said.
Aquino had said he wanted to seal a peace deal to end the 44-year insurgency, which has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, before his term ended in 2016.
When asked about the timeframe, Padilla said: “That is gone.”
The government and the rebels had initially raised hopes in early 2011 that they were on the right track when they announced after top-level talks in Norway that both sides were committed to signing a peace deal by June 2012.
But negotiations barely progressed after that.
Padilla blamed the Netherlands-based communist leadership, the National Democratic Front, for the failure, accusing it of setting new and impossible conditions for talks such as the release of captured senior rebels.
He said this had been a tactic of the rebels in more than two decades of peace talks with previous administrations, and questioned their sincerity in seeking peace.
Padilla said the government had not yet decided on its “new approach” for dealing with the rebels but it did want to re-open negotiations at some point.
The military estimates the rebels have only about 4,000 fighters nationwide, down from more than 26,000 at their peak in the 1980s.
However, they remain a danger, particularly in rural areas where they can count on support from local populations who endure the worst of the country’s savage rich-poor divide.
The rebels have become more active ahead of next month’s mid-term elections when thousands of local positions will be contested.
They killed two aides to a politician on April 20, and the military has accused them of extorting millions of dollars from many candidates in return for allowing them to campaign freely.
The military said in February that the rebels killed 164 soldiers, policemen, security forces and civilians in 2012.
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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