KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 7 — In a bid to refresh its stake on Sabah, the new head of the Sulu sultanate has offered what it calls a “win-win solution” for the long-standing conflict over ownership of the Borneo state between Malaysia and the Philippines.
Sultan Esmail Kiram II said they are offering to allow Sabah to remain within the federation of Malaysia, if the Malaysian government in turn recognises the sultanate’s ownership of the state.
“Malaysia is Muslim, the Sultanate is Muslim, the problem can be discussed between Muslims. If Malaysia wins, the Sultanate wins,” the new sultan was quoted saying in a report yesterday by Filipino paper Manila Bulletin.
Esmail succeeded his brother, Jamalul Kiram III, who died last October.
The Sulu Sultanate has for decades been pursuing its claim over Sabah, arguing that the region had been part of the sultanate’s empire and was only leased to the British prior to the creation of Malaysia.
Malaysia still pays an annual stipend of RM5,300, a rate that was paid by the British North Borneo Company since 1903 for the “lease”.
The last sultan of Sulu officially recognised by the Philippine government was Mahakuttah Kiram, who died in 1986.
His eldest son, Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram, was crowned sultan September last year, and is one of the many claimants to the throne.
Jamalul Kiram III was the “interim sultan” between 1974 and 1981, and was elected “de facto sultan” at a meeting of the Kiram clan last November.
He had also ran as a Philippine senator in 2007 under the TEAM Unity banner of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but lost despite garnering close to two million votes.
In February last year, some 200 armed militants sailed over from South Philippines to Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu, where they set up camp for a month to stake their claim on Sabah in the name of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, Esmail’s elder brother.
The incident ended with several days of armed conflict with Malaysian security forces, with over 70 filipino gunmen and 10 Malaysian security officers reportedly killed in the fighting.
The Malaysian authorities have since launced legal proceedings for various acts of terrorism against 30 individuals linked to the deadly insurgency, with the trial on-going at the Sabah Prisons Department.
The self-proclaimed sultanate’s secretary-general, Abraham Idjirani, meanwhile, was reported by another Filipino daily, Manila Times, to hav said they are also considering filing a case before the International Court of Justice and a London court.
The sultanate’s legal counsel, John Castriciones, said the case before the London court, if filed, will seek to stop Malaysia from using funds, properties and assets sourced from Sabah.
The colonial British who turned over North Borneo - as Sabah was formerly known - to Malaysia during the formation of the federation in 1963.