(Nightlead) DFA asks Malaysia to extend Sabah deadline to Tuesday

February 23, 2013 1:00 am 

By Michaela del Callar

MANILA, Feb. 22 -– The Dept. of Foreign Affairs Friday asked Malaysia to extend until Tuesday the deadline it gave to a group of armed Filipinos holed up in a village in Sabah to withdraw peacefully.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he conveyed this to his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, Friday morning.

Manila is continuing efforts to persuade the followers of Sultan of Sulu Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, engaged in a nearly two-week standoff with Malaysian forces, to leave Sabah without resistance.

“The (Malaysian) Foreign Minister will endorse our request for an extension of the deadline to Tuesday on the basis of work still in progress on urging Kiram family to lead the peaceful withdrawal of the group in Lahad Datu as early as possible. The Foreign Minister will revert on our request,” Del Rosario told reporters in a text message.

Sabah, south of Mindanao, is territorially disputed by the Philippines and Malaysia.

A Philippine claim for sovereignty over island has laid dormant for decades, but Malaysia continues to pay a yearly rent to the heirs of Sultan of Sulu.

The group, reported to be around 200, crossed to Malaysian-controlled Sabah last week to reclaim their ancestral homeland.

Malaysian forces surrounding them have given then until Friday to withdraw.

In a media forum Thursday night, Del Rosario said the Philippine government was informed by Malaysia that the Filipinos will be deported if they will refuse to leave Sabah.

He said he was assured by the Malaysian government that they will not use force on the Filipinos.

Del Rosario, during the Manila Overseas Press Club forum in Alabang, said the Philippine government will continue pressing for an extension of deadline until the situation is resolved peacefully.

The Filipinos refused to leave until the Malaysian government heeds their demand to re-open talks on unresolved claim of the sultanate on Sabah.

Every year, hundreds of Filipinos enter Sabah illegally through Mindanao in search of a better life.

Most of the undocumented Filipinos in Sabah hail from Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and other far-flung provinces in the south that are among the Philippines’ poorest and constantly plagued by war. (PNA)

HBC/MDC/UTB

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