Malaysia’s Najib Seeks Philippine Hotline After Sabah Clashes

Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak is seeking a security hotline with the Philippines, a year after clashes between authorities and Filipino Muslims claiming sovereignty over Sabah state led to the death of at least 62 people.

Najib met with Philippine President Benigno Aquino in Putrajaya south of Kuala Lumpur today, where they discussed the need to exchange intelligence and conduct more military and police exercises together, the Malaysian leader said at a briefing. “I also suggested the need for us to have a direct hotline between Malaysian and Philippine security forces.”

The sultans of Sulu once ruled over both Sabah and the Sulu islands in the southern Philippines. Supporters of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III clashed with Malaysian authorities when he sent a brother and 200 armed followers to Sabah in February last year to occupy land and pursue the clan’s claim. Aquino accused Kiram, who died in October, and his followers of dragging the nation into a dispute that risked hurting relations with Malaysia.

“We should enhance further our security by holding joint military exercises,” Aquino, who on Feb. 19 said he did not plan to discuss the Sabah issue with Najib, said at the briefing. He said he invited Najib to witness the signing of a peace agreement between his government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Malaysia is helping broker a pact aimed at ending a four-decade Muslim insurgency on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao that has killed as many as 200,000 people.

Aquino said he and Najib agreed that territorial disputes with China must be settled peacefully and according to law. Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and China are among countries making overlapping claims to areas of the South China Sea, waters rich in oil, gas and fish through which some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes run.

China agreed in July at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations-hosted forum in Brunei to work toward rules to avoid conflict in the waters. There has not been major progress on developing a code of conduct, and China introduced fishing rules in January requiring foreign vessels to seek permission before entering waters off its southern coast.

Malaysia sees the potential for increased trade with the Philippines and has offered to train its neighbor on Islamic finance, Najib said.

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