The foreign incursion into Malaysian territory of Sabah has shed a poor light on the part of the Malaysian Government in handling such incidents. This incident happened on 9 February and a deadly ambush yesterday 1 March ended in an apparent shootout reportedly killing 14 and wounding 3.
Malaysians are appalled by the way the incident was mismanaged and calls for a thorough review of protocols to prevent another fiasco from happening again in the future. We believe that Malaysia has not sent a strong and firm signal to all foreign parties who may harbor similar intents. Hence, the Home Minister, Defense Minister and Foreign Minister as well as the Prime Minister must make amends immediate to fix this.
The chronology is taken from TMI here. The chronology is attributed to Bernama. Commentaries are inserted in bold.
Chronology of intrusion by Lahad Datu rebels
KUALA LUMPUR, March 2 — The following is the chronology of events pertaining to the intrusion into Lahad Datu, Sabah by an armed group from the southern Philippines:
February 9 — The group enters Malaysian waters in a boat and begins to gather in stages at Felda Sahabat 17, Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu.
A few pertinent questions must be answered.
- How did this group managed to slip past our border security by boat? Did they come by many vessels or a large one, enough to ferry 180 people (the number as reported here.) This is not a trivial covert affair and our border security must have been sleeping on the job. Where was our Navy and Maritimes (our Marine Police rolled into a new outfit)? Even having Scorpene submarines cannot seem to help.
- How was it that our Special Branch or links to other Intelligence Agencies never shed a clue that this national security breach was about to happen? Perhaps we expect them to be well informed like our CIA and MI6 but alas that is now a fantasy.
February 11 — A gang from the group is discovered by a group of local fishermen at night. The fishermen lodge a police report that 100 armed men in army fatigues are putting up in Kampung Tandou.
This is a very encouraging sign coming from the local fishing folks with their civic and national interest mindset. Reporting this incident immediately is very commendable. They are also very well informed to distinguish that the army fatigue is not resembling the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia or police commando. And to do so at night is incredibly good.
February 12 — The group breaks into smaller groups to enter several locations in the village, namely Sungai Bakau village, village surau and the house of one Ahmad Malandi, also known as Mad Bon.
Nothing more is mentioned about this Mad Bon character if he was an accomplice or his house was arbitrarily chosen by the foreign intruders. This must be answered clearly and immediately by the police.
February 14 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak says the Malaysian government will try its best, including negotiations, to handle the intrusion before ousting them from the area.
Herein lies the beginning of failures for our Government.
- It takes almost 2 days for the PM to react from the time of the report to the time Najib makes a statement. It shows that this matter is not of utmost urgency or that the administration is having a tough time figuring out what to do as there is no proven or clear protocols to follow.
- Keeping Malaysians informed about what the Government is doing on a timely basis will obviously strengthen the public image of the Government but this was definitely not the case.
- Statements like “try its best” and “negotiations” are fluffy wishful thinking, soft polite words to use in a serious case of national security breach. Does this mean that anyone harboring an incursion into the sovereign territory of Malaysia will be similarly entertained by the Government, that there will always be a negotiation first before taking a lethal approach? This is a precedent that Malaysia cannot afford but our feeble stance is now apparent, thanks to our Government approach.
- “Ousting them from the area” is also a very vague phrase which shows that our Government does not have any definite and deliberate decisions or strategies to handle such an event. It must have not only taken our Government by surprise, it is also showing how inapt they are in handling the situation.
It was also reported here that our PM is asking the group to surrender and leave area as soon as possible. This actually sounds like a joke because if they came armed, they are not about to just surrender. Then, what does “leave area as soon as possible” mean? Please exit when you can but soonest is preferred? What does that make Malaysia? A moronic country who tells invaders to leave as soon as possible?
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar says the police have identified the group of Filipinos who landed in Lahad Datu as being linked to the “Sulu Sultanate” from the southern Philippines.
He says the group claims to be the “Royal Army of the Sulu Sultanate” and they do not want their people of Sulu descent to be sent back to their country of origin.
Ismail says negotiations with the armed group are still in progress to find the best solution, without bloodshed.
Next to appear was our IGP. Ask him the following questions and see what answers we get.
- How did he identify the group to be a) Filipinos and b) linked to the “Sulu Sultanate”?
- If the group made a claim, was there a spokesperson representing them who met with the IGP or the appointed negotiator?
- How was the contact made? Is it our protocol to establish contact in the event of a foreign incursion? This is not a hostage situation or a typical standoff with bad guys. This is an invasion and we must call it as it is. So what is our protocol for such a situation?
- Does Malaysia negotiate with foreign invaders? The IGP happens to say the same as the PM that they were negotiating to find the best solution, without bloodshed. Obviously, when the incursion is armed, bloodshed is what they have prepared. So what does our defense protocol tells us? They came for a picnic and will pack their guns and go home after the fun has ended? Do we “negotiate” with those who ran police barricades or in a progress of an armed robbery? No. We know from reports that police shoots first and ask questions later. Numerous reports of teenagers and women killed who are not armed shows the duplicity of actions here.
- Why does it take up to 2 days to publicly respond? Obviously, the IGP thinks that the matter is not of utmost public importance and can take his time to prepare for a press conference. Otherwise, show some respect to the public and demonstrate professional urgency to act. 2 days is not showing any urgency at all.
- Why was there no further details to sufficiently put the public at ease that the police has the situation under control? Sketchy information goes to show that the police does not know the facts and the reality of the situation. At least, that is the common observation. The police must step up in this area to show how highly professional and capable they are in handling all kinds of situations, particularly one with national security involved.
However, given that this is not a domestic originated event but rather a foreign attack of Malaysian soil, shouldn’t the army be involved? Where is the navy to prevent it in the first place.
A report quotes a Philippine army personnel, who is a loyal follower of Sulu Raja Muda, Azzimudie Kiram, as saying the group has come at the invitation of a “Malaysian opposition” to discuss land issues in Sabah.
If the “Malaysian opposition” invitation is true, the BN Government will have quickly latched on and take the Opposition to task immediately. Obviously, this is an unsubstantiated rumor or the Government feels that this is frivolous. If this is proven true, we strongly urge the Government to try the “Malaysian Opposition” for treason.
Interestingly, Anwar has denied any links to this event (read here) and suggests that it is the BN Government trying to deflect blame.
An opinion piece suggested that the reason for the incursion was to allow the Sultan of Sulu to re-negotiate a higher rental for Sabah from the Malaysian Government (read here). This is an interesting suggestion nonetheless.
February 16 — Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein confirms the group is not a militant or terrorist group but is in fact a strong supporter of the Sulu Sultanate and stresses the situation in Kampung Tanduo is under control.
The group, which wants to be known as the Royal Army of Sulu Sultanate, among others, is also claiming ownership of Sabah and wants the state to be returned as a territory of the Sulu Sultanate, claiming it was seized by the British from the Sulu government.
After 5 days, our Home Minister speaks up. It was reported that he was in Sabah at the time of the incursion. If this is true, he is doing an absolutely appalling job at being a Home Minister as he flew back to KL instead of heading straight to handle the situation at Lahad Datu.
The allegations that the group is attempting to claim back their “lost” territory by an armed invasion of Sabah shows their lack of respect for the law and makes them a terrorist. They may have taken a page off other terrorist groups thinking a show of power in an invasion can achieve their goals, however legitimate they may be.
And for Hishammuddin to tell us that all is fine stems to show that he thinks Malaysians are idiots who knows nothing about the seriousness of an invasion. Please Mr Home Minister, step up to your job.
February 18 — Hishammuddin says the governments of Malaysia and the Philippines are working closely to resolve the conflict, through diplomacy and without bloodshed.
Again, our Home Minister shows weakness in wanting to proceed with diplomacy. It sends a totally wrong signal telling the world the following:
- The Philippine Government recognizes the Sultan of Sulu and the incursion is understandable although unexpected.
- Diplomacy means our Government recognizes the rule of the Sultan of Sulu that we think is proper to go through diplomatic channels to resolve this invasion.
It is obvious that our Government has forgotten the Malaysian Emergency between 1962 and 1966 (read here) that was largely fought in Borneo with an incursion into Labis and Pontian in 1964. Where was diplomacy then? The British and Australian forces helped prevent the sabotage of the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.
What gives our Government the right to engage in diplomacy with the Sulu invasion? If they have a legitimate claim, make it via legitimate channels. An armed incursion is an invasion in any language.
February 24 — The Philippine government sends a boat on a humanitarian mission to ferry the 180 armed personnel, including 30 armed guards, holding up in Lahad Datu.
It is now obvious that it takes a large boat to handle 180 people. So who provided this for the group in the first place? How did such a boat get through Malaysian security when the Philippine boat did not. The Government must get to the bottom of this. Also a question for our Navy to answer.
It is suspect of Philippines to do this. Another report (read here) tells us that the Philippine Government wants full access to the invaders “so that the Philippine government can provide medical treatment and consular assistance” which appears to show sympathy and support for the illegal incursion. What is the Philippine Government trying to do? Prolong the standoff? They can provide whatever assistance after the group is in custody and charged in court. Regardless of what they say that they are law abiding, their actions show that they are a threat to Malaysia and must be dealt with in accordance to Malaysian law.
We must insist that the Philippine Government immediately intervene to support the Malaysian Government to finish the job in arresting everyone from the group and charge them in court. The Philippine Government can send legal representation to assist them at that time instead. So far, the Philippine Government seems to be condoning the actions of the Filipino invaders and that is totally unacceptable between friendly Governments in ASEAN.
February 26 — The deadline to expel the group passes but negotiations are still in progress.
It is also obvious that the standoff is an impasse because what the group wants while bearing arms and invading Malaysia cannot be entertained. It can be as wild as “give us back Sabah and you leave or else” type of demands. We probably will never know what was discussed. It is really incredulous to even entertain such negotiations with people of no legal standing since they have entered the country illegally in the first place and making threats to the country.
Clearly, the negotiations are failing as deadlines are not even honored. So why negotiate in the first place. Unless this buys us time to plot a final and definite stop to the standoff. If the strength of dishonoring deadlines comes from an indirect Philippine Government support, we will have a much bigger problem to tackle. Hopefully, this incursion is not invasion by proxy.
We urge the Philippine Government to make a clear and bold stand to instruct the group to stand down or face the consequences of the Malaysian Government and the Philippine Government.
February 28 — The Malaysian government is urged to negotiate directly with Sultan Jamalul Kiram III in Manila to end the conflict, which has prolonged for more than three weeks.
The call is made by Jamalul’s youngest brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, who stresses that only his brother can order the 180 royal army personnel to leave Felda Sahabat 17, Lahad Datu.
If the Malaysian Government even entertained this suggestion, then it shows that we are all fools. Fortunately, this did not happen thus salvaging some amount of national pride. Malaysia must not be threatened by any foreign parties, and definitely not the Sultan of Sulu. In fact, if it is proven that the Sultan of Sulu was behind the invasion, Malaysia must take this up with the International Courts to charge him. Something tells us that our Government will just look the other way, for the sake of “diplomacy”.
March 1 — A shootout breaks out between security forces and a small group of intruders when they try to break a police blockade in Kampung Tanduo, resulting in two police commandos dead and three others injured.
All 12 members of the small group of intruders are killed. — Bernama
We know the small group of “intruders” are killed in the skirmish. What happened to diplomacy? The invaders will not leave anytime soon but have been reported that they are willing to die for their “cause”. Agbimuddin Kiram, the youngest brother of the Sultan of Sulu, is also reported to be defiant, willing to die in Sabah if need be (read here). That is how they see their possible ending. What is our Government thinking?
The group is possibly trying to break the police cordon and spread out to other parts of Sabah. The MLNF was reported to say that a civil war may erupt in Sabah as there are over 8,500 Filipinos who are supporters of the Sultan of Sulu and are now residing there in Sabah (read here). The same report also suggested that the MNLF may join in to reinforce the invaders. So why are we negotiating? There is all the possibility of an escalation.
The fault of the Government lies in definitions. Our Home Minister, Hishamuddin (note February 16 of chronology above) and Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, both say that this group is not a militant or a terrorist group (read here). By this stroke of a pen, Malaysia moves on diplomacy instead. This is the crux of our error in not classifying the arm invasion as terroristic else we will have taken a very different stance. So what do the Malaysian Government calls the Lahad Datu invaders with machine guns? Friends?
Be prepared for an extended standoff if the Malaysian Government is not going to make a definite strike to stop a clear and present danger to the country. Analysts believe that if this happens, it will not stop the BN Government from declaring an Emergency and suspend the calling of GE13 until further notice. Strangely, the previous declaration of Emergency in the Indonesian confrontation in the 60’s was not constitutionally lifted and we are technically under the state of Emergency still.
The handling of this event can be the watershed of the BN Government that the people will love them or hate them in the coming GE13.
To the Malaysian Government, please step up now and be accountable and stop wishing the invaders will just go home peacefully. Send a clear and definite signal to one and all that Malaysia will never tolerate any incursion of national security by any foreign parties once for all!
PM Najib, do it now or risk losing the GE13 by making the nation feel dissatisfied with you. Do it before this escalates to an all out war with the MNLF and Sulu.
This is your best chance to shine as the leader of Malaysia. Do not let us down!
TMI just reported that Najib says that there will be no more negotiations with the invaders and they shall either surrender now or face action from the national security forces (read here). Malaysians wish that Najib will use stronger words to show his position of strength and not be Mr Nice and sound weak.