Philippines Calls on Malaysia to Clarify Report of Sabah Abuse

The Philippines called on Malaysia to clarify a report that police had indiscriminately shot and killed Filipinos living in the eastern state of Sabah, after a Muslim clan from the island nation invaded the area last month.

“We reiterate our call on the Malaysian government to give humane treatment to the Filipinos under their custody,” the Philippines Foreign Affairs Department said in a statement yesterday. “The allegations are alarming and should be properly and immediately addressed by concerned authorities.”

Malaysian police rounded up Filipinos living in Sabah last week and killed several people, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported yesterday, citing a woman who fled the violence and said her brother was shot dead. Sabah police chief Hamza Taib, speaking by phone today, “strongly denied” that Filipinos were being abused in the state.

Sixty-two people have died in Sabah this month in clashes between Malaysian police and followers of Jamalul Kiram, who claims he’s the Sulu sultan and is asserting a centuries-old ownership claim on the state. The violence comes weeks before elections in both countries and the conclusion of peace talks between Philippine President Benigno Aquino and Muslim separatists.

Malaysian authorities have sought to prevent the 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah from joining Kiram’s roughly 200 followers. Police have detained 97 people with links to the insurgents, and killed a 12-year-old boy yesterday, Taib said phone.

“He was in an area where the security forces were doing their mopping-up operations and detaining those linked with the insurgents,” Taib said, referring to the boy.

Death Toll

The Philippine Daily Inquirer report cited Amira Taradji as saying her brother was killed when Malaysian police ordered a group of Filipino men to run as fast as they could before shooting at them. She was among about 400 Filipinos who fled Malaysia in boats and spoke after arriving in the Philippines, the report said.

Fifty-four militants and eight Malaysian police officers have been killed since fighting erupted on March 1, according to Malaysian authorities. Voting may be postponed in areas under siege in an election Prime Minister Najib Razak must call by April 28, state-run Bernama reported last week.

Sabah is Malaysia’s second-biggest state by land area and has a population of about 3.1 million, according to Malaysia government statistics. In Tawau district, where the fighting is centered, about half of the population is considered “non-Malaysian citizens,” the data show.

The Sulu Sultanate, which dates back to about the 15th century, says it leased Sabah to the British North Borneo Company in 1878, an agreement that Malaysia views as a secession of the region. Sabah fell under British control after World War II and joined Malaysia in 1963, shortly after the sultanate ceded sovereignty to the Philippines.

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