Skip to main content

Filipino group on Borneo claims to represent sultanate, Malaysia says

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 5:56 AM EST, Fri February 15, 2013
Head of Sulu and North Borneo, Sultan Esmail Kiram, gestures during a press conference in Manila, 28 February 2004.
Head of Sulu and North Borneo, Sultan Esmail Kiram, gestures during a press conference in Manila, 28 February 2004.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Philippine officials say they are coordinating with Malaysia on the situation
  • Malaysian security forces are in talks with the men from the South Philippines
  • The men arrived in a remote district of the Malaysian state of Sabah on Tuesday
  • They claim to represent a sultanate that once ruled over Sabah, a Malaysian official says

(CNN) -- An unusual standoff is unfolding on the island of Borneo where about 100 men from the southern Philippines have come ashore demanding to be recognized as representatives of a sultanate that has historical claims on the area, Malaysian authorities said.

Malaysian police and armed forces are negotiating with the men, who arrived by boat Tuesday in the remote, eastern district of Lahad Datu, in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo.

The men claim to be the "Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu" and say they don't want their people to be sent away from the area, Tan Sri Ismail Omar, the Inspector General of the Royal Malaysian Police, said Thursday, according to the country's national news agency Bernama.

Malaysian security forces have surrounded the village where the men are, and discussions with the group are "proceeding well," Ismail said. "We have told them to leave Sabah peacefully, as we do not want any situation which can threaten the security of the people," he added.

Founded in the 1400s, the Sultanate of Sulu once encompassed numerous islands in the southern Philippines. At one point, it also comprised parts of Borneo, including Sabah.

The historical connection still fuels tensions between Malaysia and the Philippines, with Manila retaining a "dormant claim" to Sabah through the Sultanate of Sulu, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Sulu is now part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the southern Philippines, an area whose islands come within a few dozen kilometers of Sabah and where Islamic militants groups such as Abu Sayyaf operate.

A previous hostage drama

In 2000, gunmen associated with Abu Sayyaf kidnapped more than 20 people, including Malaysians and Europeans, from a resort on the Sabah island of Sipadan, about 100 kilometers south of Lahad Datu, and held them for ransom in the southern Philippines.

The group of Filipino men cornered in Lahad Datu say they don't want to be linked with any militant group in the Philippines, Ismail said, according to Bernama. But police don't rule out that the men are armed, he said.

"So far the situation is not tense and they appear to be behaving well," Ismail was quoted as saying. "We believe the group has friends in the village but do not have homes there."

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said it was important that the matter "be resolved without any bloodshed," Bernama reported.

Philippine government and military officials are coordinating with their Malaysian counterparts on the matter, the official Philippines News Agency (PNA) reported Friday.

Abigail Valte, a spokeswoman for Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, said the government is trying to "ascertain the facts" about the situation, according to PNA.

She said Manila was ready to provide assistance to those involved in the standoff after Philippine diplomats in Malaysia had assessed the situation.

The Philippine foreign ministry and the Malaysian prime minister's office didn't immediately respond to requests for comment from CNN on Friday. Philippine military officials declined to comment on the matter.

According to PNA, Manila still claims much of the eastern part of Sabah, which was leased to the British North Borneo Company in 1878 by the Sultanate of Sulu. In 1963, Britain transferred Sabah to Malaysia, a move that the sultanate claimed was a breach of the 1878 deal.

CNN's Kathy Quiano contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Sky gazers caught a glimpse of the "blood moon" crossing the Earth's shadow Tuesday in all its splendor.
updated 12:24 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Oscar Pistorius didn't consciously pull the trigger the night he shot and killed his girlfriend, the sprinter testified at his murder trial.
updated 5:16 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Officials are launching their next option: an underwater vehicle to scan the ocean floor.
updated 8:54 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
A mysterious new artwork has appeared in Cheltenham, where Britain's version of the NSA is located.
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Like many parents across Liverpool, the McManamans waited. 25 years ago, it was all they could do.
updated 9:24 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
The Maltese Falcon makes a swift turn while at sea.
How do you design a superyacht fit for the billionaire who has everything money can buy?
updated 11:48 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Pop art condoms in Kenya
Packaging can change how people see things. And when it comes to sex, it could maybe help save lives too.
updated 11:42 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
mediterranean monk seal
Africa is home to much unique wildlife, but many of its iconic species are threatened.
updated 11:09 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
A staff stands next to the propellers of Sun-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 HB-SIB seen in silhouette during its first exit for test on April 14, 2014 in Payerne, a year ahead of their planned round-the-world flight. Solar Impulse 2 is the successor of the original plane of the same name, which last year completed a trip across the United States without using a drop of fuel. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
This solar-powered aircraft will attempt to circle the globe next year.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins.
updated 1:14 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
... not in Italy. In fact, it's thousands of miles away.
updated 8:43 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Ebola victims usually come from remote areas -- but now the lethal virus is in a city of two million.
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT