Hornbill Unleashed

March 8, 2013

Who are the dogs of war in Sabah?

Keruah Usit

War, like football, is politics taken to extremes. The bloodshed in eastern Sabah was caused by two factors: Umno’s outdated racial politics and Filipino politics in the form of decades of Manila’s neglect of the Muslim south.

Therefore, a resolution can only be found politically, as a Malaysiakini writer has pointed out.

The Tausug or Sulu claim to Sabah has fanned patriotic rage among unquestioning Malaysians and Filipinos. But the intention of the self-styled Royal Sulu Army, essentially a few boatloads of bandits, cannot conceivably be to claim Sabah by force.


The invaders have manufactured a crisis to highlight their wish to be involved in the ongoing peace talks between Manila and the Moro Islamic Libertion Force (MILF), with Malaysian mediation.

Negotiations between the Philippine and Malaysian governments have excluded the Sulu sultan, as well as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the armed group from which the MILF broke off in 1978.

The Sulu sultan and his small, shabby force are jockeying frantically for position in a proposed autonomous regional authority in the southern Philippines. Such an authority would be endowed with substantial natural resources, and plenty of opportunities for patronage, if peace eventually breaks out, as news network Al-Jazeera has pointed out.

Umno leaders have entangled themselves as mediators in our neighbours’ civil wars, in Mindanao and Sulu, in southern Thailand, and formerly in Aceh.

Despite reports of successive Umno administrations supplying arms to Muslim insurgents in these flashpoints, our government has remained blasé about its lack of objectivity and credibility, and has continued to wade into negotiations between warring parties.

This Umno-led effort is clearly making a grand show of Muslim solidarity, in a desperate attempt to secure Malay-Muslim votes in the peninsula, as well as Muslim Filipino and Indonesian migrants’ votes in Sabah.

Umno’s botched attempt at brokering a peace deal in the southern Philippines has cost us heavily: hundreds of Sabahan villagers along the east coast have been made refugees, eight (or more) policemen have lost their lives, and Sabah has been drawn ever deeper into the conflict in the southern Philippines.

Umno’s legacy of lawlessness in Sabah

This Sulu Army incursion is only the latest in a series of armed raids. Sabah has been invaded repeatedly for 20 years by pirates, also described as “insurgents”, from Mindanao and adjacent islands.

sipadan island 130407 beautifulAbu Sayyaf, another MNLF splinter group, kidnapped 23 tourists and employees from the Sipadan diving resort in 2000. Armed men blocked off the main street of Lahad Datu in 1985, in a scene reminscent of the Western film The Wild Bunch, and robbed a bank.

Last November, two men surnamed Tung, 33, and 25, the son and nephew of a plantation owner, were taken at gunpoint from Lahad Datu by Muslim rebels from the southern Philippines, a kidnapping that remains unsolved, and a crime that has caused fear and anger among Sabahan voters.

There has been another, less dramatic, invasion, too. Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad effectively took down the already porous border between Sabah and the Philippines in the 1990s. Mahathir flooded Sabah with immigrants from the southern Philippines by issuing blue identity cards to Muslim migrants.

Government officers have testified before the Sabah royal commission of inquiry into immigrants that these ICs were awarded in exchange for votes for BN. “Project IC” was a cynical – and successful – attempt to overthrow the elected state government of Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS).

PBS was BN’s opponent in those years, a party led by non-Muslims. Meanwhile, non-Muslim Sarawakian and Sabahan natives have been, to this day, denied their MyKad and votes.

Umno’s ministers appear lost

Prime Minster Najib Abdul Razak did not visit Sabah in the three weeks since the invasion of the “Royal Sulu Army” on Feb 9, until March 7. Najib has made his priorities clear. With an unpredicatable general election in the offing, he is campaigning to save his political life, and the life of luxury shared by his courtiers.

NONEOn March 4, the morning Najib ordered in warplanes to bomb in the vicinity of the Sulu combatants, he was not in Sabah. He was cajoling a Bukit Jalil rally of 16,000, described by official news agencyBernama as a “gathering of Muslims, including Islamic scholars and leaders”, to vote for BN.

“We are unwavering in the matter of the word ‘Allah’. The government of today will defend the use of the word,” Najib said, asserting the BN’s commitment to denying non-Muslims the use of the word “Allah”, even though this laughable ban has been lifted by the High Court.

The government’s court appeal has been postponed: Najib is treading a fine line between drumming up religious fervour among rural Muslim Malays, his priceless vote bank, and inflaming three quarters of a million Christian voters in Sarawak and Sabah.

On the same day as the warplanes’ aerial display appeared to kill no combatants, the office of the secretariat of the coalition advocating clean elections, Bersih 2.0, was broken into, and cameras and mobile telephones taken.

Both stories would have received far more attention on a usual news day, but the Sabah news helped them slip under the radar.

Thanks to a near-blackout on official news, conspiracy theories are rife.

One holds that Najib invited the Sulu army in to distract voters from the coming general election, to bury the shocking revelations of the Sabah RCI into “Project IC”, and to provide an excuse to delay GE13 if a state of emergency is declared in Sabah.

There is also a ridiculous tale of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim promising Sabah to the Sulu Sultan.

Even Philippine President Noynoy Aquino tried to blame former president Gloria Arroyo for the invasion. Politicians, being political animals, seem compelled to play these games.

But the most likely explanation remains that the Sulu royal family (and members of the MNLF) invaded on their own initiative.

NONEEven so, the haplessness of our Umno ministers, Najib, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, considerably delayed a military response.

This delay led to the deaths of eight policemen.The Umno ministers have shown alarming incomepetence, behaving like headless chickens – though retaining their ability to tweet.

Who, then, are the dogs of war in Sabah? This preventable bloodshed has resulted from a string of political failures: first Mahathir’s “Project IC”, then Najib’s “exclusive” peace deal with the MILF, and finally, the Umno minsters’ ineptitude when confronted with a crisis that they cannot buy, or bully, their way out of.

Ending this conflict requires dialogue with all warring parties, including Sulu, the MNLF and the MILF, and negotiations with the Filipino government to relieve the staggering poverty in the southern Philippines.

It will also require a better deal for Sabah. This requires a new – and competent – federal cabinet and government. Local Sabah politics may finally recover from the corruption of Umno, and Sabahans will then be able to work towards greater autonomy and security.

KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist – ‘anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia‘. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted at keruah_usit@yahoo.com


  1. Mahadevil is a mad dog from Kerala who cheated and robbed, and continue to do so until now.

    Comment by tigeryk — March 8, 2013 @ 5:22 PM | Reply

  2. Successive UMNO administrations in the 1970’s and 1980’s under pendatang Bugis Razak, pendatang Turki Hussein Onn and Razak’s blue-eyed boy pendatang Kerala Mahathir trained and armed the Muslim Jihadists in the southern Philippines who have now turned their guns on their backer. Now, the incompetent and bumbling sons of Razak and Hussein Onn are forced to clean up the mess left behind by their daddies.

    Comment by You help me, I help you — March 8, 2013 @ 4:17 PM | Reply

  3. MAMAK KUTTY IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS SITUATION IN SABAH WHERE THE NEW MINTED BUMIPUTRAs WILL FORM THE FIFTH COLUMN TO WAGE WAR AGAINST THE YANG DIPERTUAN AGONG AND THE COUNTRY. This is the real threat to the country, not the Bersih 3.0 marchers or the Australian Senator. High time the AGC charge the Mamak for high treason!! He said it was all done legally. Tell this to the High Court Judge!

    Note: I am proud to be a Malaysian born Indian. I do not need to be a Mamak Muslim or wear Umno band to be an Imitation Malay.

    Comment by SK Subramaniam — March 8, 2013 @ 3:33 PM | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: