PETALING JAYA, March 6 — Malaysia could be facing a prolonged “political crisis” in Sabah stemming from the Lahad Datu standoff, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) warned today, as it continued to push for Putrajaya to convene an urgent parliamentary sitting to address the conflict.
“PR wants to remind the government that military action taken may have solved the crisis in Lahad Datu temporarily but the political crisis that was triggered by this incident may prolong.
“A political solution must be made as a long-term strategy to improve the situation in Sabah,” PKR lawmaker Datuk Johari Abdul told reporters at the party’s headquarters here.
News that the Filipino militants claiming allegiance to the Sulu Sultunate could be receiving reinforcements from the Islamist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) had sparked concerns of a protracted war with the two groups.
Philippine intelligence sources have been quoted by the country’s media as saying that the bleak scenario was possible.
Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim also took aim at Putrajaya’s apparent dawdling in the ongoing crisis in Sabah, highlighting how the Mahathir administration needed just four days to deal decisively with the al Maunah incident of 2000.
“We should have been more very swift in our action against them. That we do not compromise,” Anwar said, adding that the indecisiveness reflected poorly on the government.
“The failure by the leadership in dealing with this incident at Lahad Datu is proven by the fact that this issue is not solved after 23 days.”
Yesterday, the MNLF claimed thousands of Tausug, also known as the Suluks, have sailed to Sabah to help their fellow Filipino militants in eastern Sabah who have reportedly gone into hiding following the heavy assault by Malaysian forces since morning, according to a report by The Philippine Inquirer.
The claim, however, contradicts reports elsewhere that security forces in both Malaysia and Philippines have blocked off entry points into the beleaguered Lahad Datu township, where the militants are holed up.
Inquirer also reported denials of any such reinforcements being sent into Sabah from Lt. Gen, Rey Ardo, chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, and acting Governor Mujib Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Both men said they are not aware of any reinforcements sent to aid the self-proclaimed royal army of the Sulu Sultanate.
Johari pointed out that the contradicting reports from the local as well as international media depict the shallow depth of public understanding on the security situation in Sabah, which he blamed on the lack of transparency on Putrajaya’s part.
“Did the government underestimate the threat of the intruders? Why did the intrusion was not taken as an armed threat from the start? Did this happen due to the failure of our intelligence?”
The Sungai Petani MP said these were some of the questions that needed to be answered and the emergency parliament sitting being the right avenue.
Malaysian security forces moved in on the armed rebels in Lahad Datu yesterday, kicking off with a dawn airstrike by F18 and Hawk fighter jets on the village.
But immediately after, news reports in the Philippines said group chief Agbimuddin Kiram and his men had merely stood by and watched the attacks and explosions from hidden locations about 1km away from where the bombs were dropped.
Agbimuddin is the brother of Jamalul Kiram III, the self-proclaimed sultan of Sulu. The latter said he had ordered the occupation of Lahad Datu to reclaim Sabah, its supposed ancestral land that was “rented” in a deal dating back to colonial times.
The opposition alleged the conflict there had exposed security lapse on Sabah’s coastal borders. Putrajaya denied the allegation.
“The Barisan Nasional government has the tendency to play down the crisis,” said PAS lawmaker Khalid Samad.
“The implications are wide and far reaching…we need to know all the information so we can work together to defuse the situation,” added the Shah Alam MP.
According to DAP Bukit Bendera MP Liew Chin Tong, the opposition’s request to call for an emergency sitting was conveyed to Minister in the Prime Minister Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz on Monday.
“But he said the Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Razak) has to decide,” he said.
The stand off, which has entered into its 24th day, had claimed 28 lives at press time.
Despite pounding a village here with airstrikes yesterday, sending in five battalions of soldiers and claiming the mission “had achieved its objective”, authorities said today that they have yet to recover any bodies of Filipino militants.