Malaysia standoff in Borneo spurs concern about broader repercussions
A rising death toll, three weeks after Filipino militants stormed Malaysia’s eastern state of Sabah on Borneo Island, could spur a broader confrontation between Malaysia and the Philippines.
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Latin America Editor
Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.
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The death toll has risen to at least 31 people over the weekend following a standoff between Malaysian authorities and Filipino militants, who stormed the island of Borneo three weeks ago and refused to leave.
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Yesterday Malaysian police said unidentified armed men attacked and killed at least six security officials in Malaysia's eastern state of Sabah, reports The Wall Street Journal. These deaths came just days after 14 people – two Malaysian and 12 Filipino – were killed in clashes between Malaysian security forces and the militants who claim to represent the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu.
In early February, more than 100 followers of the Sultan of Sulu reignited a centuries-old land dispute by traveling to Sabah and refusing to abandon claims to the territory, reports The Christian Science Monitor.
The sultanate, or the territory the sultan governed, existed from the late 15th century until the late 19th century, governing Muslims spanning parts of Sulu and northern Borneo.
Though the sultanate is not recognized anymore internationally as a governing entity, Malaysia still pays a token "rental fee" to the heirs of the last sultan.
This isn’t the first incursion of the resource-rich state of Sabah, reports Agence France-Presse. Past raids were largely orchestrated by Filipino Islamic militant groups traveling from southern Philippines.
Both the Malaysian and Filipino navies have been deployed in the area, and The New York Times reports that Malaysian security forces are doubling their presence in Sabah. The militants say reinforcements are arriving from the Philippines to support their claim to the land. The Filipino president sent social workers, medics, and Filipino-Muslims to try to bring about the Sulu militant group’s withdrawal.