Filipinos living in the tension-gripped Sabah territory in Northern Borneo said they have been segregated according to tribe and that their movements have been limited and closely monitored by Malaysian authorities.
Classes were also suspended in Lahad Datu in Sabah as the standoff between Malaysian police and security forces and self-proclaimed “Royal Army” of the heirs and descendants of the Sultanate of Sulu entered its third week.
A Filipina (name withheld to protect her identity) living in the area who was interviewed by Bombo Radyo Gensan Tuesday morning said they were also told that the “intruding” armed Filipino followers of Jamalul Kiram II, who claimed to be the current Sultan of Sulu, are members of the al-Qaeda affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group.
According to the Filipina, who is from Davao City, Malaysian police and security forces have separated the Tausugs from the rest of the Filipino ethnic groups but added that they have not been harmed nor threatened. She said she did not know the reason why they were segregated according to ethnicity.
The Tausugs are the dominant ethnic group of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi but some Maguindaoans, Yakans and Samals have also established residences in many parts of Sabah.
Some 800,000 Filipinos are said to be living in northern Borneo, many of them illegally and undocumented. They were part of the exodus from Mindanao during the height of the Moro insurgency in the 1970s
The woman who was interviewed said she does not have a Philippine passport. She was nevertheless hoping the situation will be resolved peacefully soon.
As of press time reports said the Malaysian government has ordered fresh offensives against the Filipino intruders.
Most of the undocumented Filipinos in Sabah are traders or are working as farmworkers on palm oil plantations.
The New York Times reported today that palm oil firms are now facing delivery delays due to the continuing violence in the area.
At least 27 have already died in skirmishing between the Malaysian police and the heavily armed followers of the Kirams.
Some 280 followers of the Kirams, many of them armed with assault rifles, arrived in Lahad Datu three weeks ago on board two ferry vessels and a speed boat in what they claimed was a journey back to their homeland.
Sabah was once part of the vast territory of the Sultan of Sulu. It was given as a present by the Sultan of Borneo to the Sultan of Sulu for the latter’s help in quelling a rebellion in the island.
The Sultan of Sulu leased Sabah to a Dutch trader in 1876 who later sold his rights to a British Trading Company.
The Malaysian government still pays the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu token rent in recognition of the lease agreement although it annexed the territory when it was granted independence by the British colonial government after World War II.