Monday, March 4, 2013

Malaysia: At Least 26 Dead in Ongoing Siege by Muslim Terrorists

(TIME) The three-week standoff involving a band of Filipino rebels who stormed a northern Borneo village has now claimed at least 26 lives. Two Malaysian commandos and a dozen members of the Royal Army of Sulu died in a police raid on the insurgent-held territory on Friday evening, with a further five Malaysian policemen ambushed and killed nearby the next day. Another seven insurgents were reportedly slain in a separate incident on Saturday. While most of the remaining Sulu militants refuse to budge, police fear that some are planning further strikes in the surrounding coastal regions. The turmoil is causing domestic upheaval for the two governments involved; Malaysia has general elections due before the end of June, while Philippine President Benigno Aquino III could face renewed strife on home soil after he appeared to sanction the foreign use of deadly force against his defiant countrymen.

The situation, which was at first greeted with raised eyebrows within the international community, has deteriorated rapidly. On Feb. 9, more than 100 followers of self-professed Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, from the autonomous island province of Sulu in the southwestern Philippines, landed in the Malaysian province of Sabah to press their historic claim to the land. They seized control of the village of Lahad Datu only to be surrounded by the Malaysian security forces. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III appealed for his compatriots to return home peacefully and even sent a navy ship staffed with Filipino-Muslim leaders, social workers and medical personnel to facilitate their withdrawal. However, he finally lost patience with the recalcitrant Sulu insurgents and on Saturday said that they must surrender “without conditions.” The rebels had previously snubbed two deadlines to vacate the land.