MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Najib Razak has vowed to defend the sovereignty and security of the state of Sabah from foreign claims, saying he will do so if he meets with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte.
Sabah has long been the subject of a territorial dispute between the two nations. In early 2013, the Kiram clan of the Sulu Sultanate in the Philippines landed in Sabah’s Lahad Datu to stake its claim over the land, resulting in a bloody standoff with Malaysian forces that left 80 dead.
According to The Star, Najib said that Sabah, which falls under the Malaysian federation, would remain the government’s top priority to ensure the state’s economic and physical development.
“If I meet Duterte, I will defend Sabah’s sovereignty,” Najib told members of the ruling Umno party during a delegation meeting in the state on Sunday.
Reiterating the government’s uncompromising stance on the dispute, Najib said Malaysia’s sovereignty over Sabah should not be questioned and would be defended, adding the state has been politically stable under the Barisan Nasional ruling coalition.
Shortly after winning presidential mandate in the elections in June, Duterte said he would pursue the Philippines’ claim on Sabah and that it would remain a policy of the government.
Duterte went on to say then that his administration recognized Sabah as the territory of the Sulu Sultanate, as claimed by the Kiram clan, who are citizens of the Philippines.
Earlier this month, a Philippine official said Duterte had planned travel to Malaysia to meet Najib some time in August. However, the plan has yet to materialize.
The Kiram clan, which was led by self-proclaimed Sultan Esmail Kiram II until his death last year, say they are the descendants of the former rulers of the area stretching from southern Philippines to Sabah. The last Sultan of Sulu officially recognized by the Philippine government was Mahakuttah Kiram, who died in 1986.
Historically, in 1963, the British government transferred administration of Sabah to the Federation of Malaysia. But according to the Kiram clan, Sabah was only leased, and not ceded, to the British North Borneo Co.
Malaysia, however, maintains that Sabah has been recognized as part of its territory by the international community since the formation of the federation in 1963.
In the 2013 Lahad Datu incursion, the Kiram clan attempted to take Sabah by force by sending 200 armed men to Kampung Tanduo, sparking the month-long security crisis.
By the end of the standoff, 70 Filipino gunmen and 10 Malaysian security officers were reported killed.