KUALA LUMPUR, March 5 — Malaysia-trained fighters from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) will be joining their Filipino Muslim militants to battle Malaysia’s security forces in Sabah, the Manila Bulletin reported today.
The Philippine paper reported Hadji Acmad Bayam, a former chief propagandist of the separatist group, as saying the MNLF had hidden an arsenal deep in Sabah’s rugged terrain before they returned home after their rigid training, adding he was confident the authorities would not be able to find the firearms.
Among the firearms are Belgian-made G1 and FAL, which the late Libya leader Muammar Gaddafi had supplied through Malaysia, Acmad told the paper.
Acmad was reported to have stayed in Sabah for nearly a decade, from 1976 to 1986, before yielding to then Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos.
The former militant leader told the paper many of the seasoned rebel commanders and rank-and-file members had chosen to stay back in Sabah.
Most of them were from Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and the Zamboanga peninsula on the Philippines south, he said, adding the MNLF men also included those from Maguindanao, Irano and Maranao.
Acmad related that one of the senior-ranking Malaysia-trained commanders had contacted him a few days ago, saying he was enlisting Tausug warriors and others to back the followers of Agbimuddin Kiram, the self-styled crown prince and heir to the Sulu sultanate that allegedly owns Sabah.
“I was trying to contact him yesterday but his phone cannot be reached anymore.
“I guess he was able to penetrate the Malaysian and Philippine sea-borne blockades in their respective borders,” Acmad was quoted saying.
Last Sunday, Abraham Idjirani, spokesman for Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, said 40 people from Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and the Zamboanga peninsula claimed to have breached the blockades mounted by Malaysia’s security forces.
The Malaysian army launched an attack on the Filipino intruders at Kampung Tanduo, Felda Sahabat in Lahad Datu at 7am today, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak confirmed in a statement today.
The Star Online reported that fresh fighting began between the Sulu gunmen and security forces early this morning. Soldiers are already on the ground in the village, it added.
Gunshots were heard and fighter jets were seen circling around the Felda Sahabat plantation. Explosions were heard for 40 minutes in Kampung Tanduo, the daily reported.
The group of 200 armed men, claiming to be the Royal Sulu Sultanate Army, had landed on February 9 to revive their sultan’s claim for the Borneo state.
Armed Forces Chief Gen Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin said yesterday seven more battalions have been sent to Sabah since Saturday, with five in Lahad Datu and one each based in Sandakan and Tawau.
Philippine broadcaster ABN-CBS reported today the Kiram family are currently huddled in a “pre-council” meeting to determine their next course of action.