MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Muslim royal clan leader met a top Philippine government official to discuss possible ways of resolving a deadly crisis that started when his brother and 200 others invaded a village in Malaysia’s Sabah state to revive an old claim to the territory.
Esmail Kiram II told The Associated Press on Monday that he told Interior Secretary Mar Roxas that Malaysia needed to agree to a cease-fire to allow talks aimed at resolving the weeks-long Sabah standoff that has sparked the worst security crisis in years for the neighboring Southeast Asian countries.
He and Roxas declined to provide other details of their closed-door discussion, which included other members of Kiram’s clan from the southern Philippines.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak rejected an earlier call for a cease-fire and demanded Kiram’s younger brother, Agbimuddin, who led the invasion into Sabah last month, to lay down his arms unconditionally and surrender to his men. The Philippine government also called on him to give up.
Agbimuddin Kiram has said he would rather die than surrender his Philippine sultanate’s rights to Sabah, which he said has belonged to his clan and its followers for centuries.
Malaysia has run the resource-rich frontier region of timberlands and palm oil plantations in northern Borneo as its second-largest federal state since the 1960s.
“If there’s a cease-fire, even if he cannot come, we are free to go there to talk with him,” Kiram said, adding that would allow his brother to be briefed on and consider proposals being discussed to end the unrest.
At least 62 people have been killed in sporadic clashes between Sabah authorities and the Filipino clansmen hiding in or around Sabah’s coastal district of Lahad Datu. Malaysian police have arrested 85 men and women, who were being held without trial under a security law, for alleged links to the gunmen.
A Malaysian crackdown to flush out Kiram and his followers on Sabah in northern Borneo island has sparked accusations of human rights violations and arbitrary arrests of Filipinos, who have long settled there in search of work and opportunities, and to escape from the poverty and a decades-long Muslim insurgency in the southern Philippines. Malaysian officials denied the accusations.
The Philippine government’s main concern was the safety and welfare of about 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah.