Crisis in Sabah After Malaysia’s Standoff with Armed Filipinos

Map of Sabah and the standoff in Lahad Datu. Photo from Wikipedia
Map of Sabah and the standoff in Lahad Datu. Via Cmglee on Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

On February 9, 2013, 200 armed Filipinos belonging to the so-called Royal Sulu Army occupied parts of Lahad Datu in Sabah (North Borneo) and declared ownership of the whole territory in the name of the Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

Sabah has been part of the Malaysian Federation since 1963. In response, the Sulu Sultanate has continued to assert its historical and proprietary claims over the territory. Moreover, the Philippines has yet to officially drop its claim that Sabah is part of its territory.

For three weeks, the Malaysian government asked the armed Filipinos in Lahad Datu to surrender. But finally on March 5, the military attacked the group and ended the occupation. The clash and subsequent military operations reportedly led to the killing of more than 60 individuals, including 8 members of the Malaysian police.

The Sabah Issue and its Impact on Philippine-Malaysian Relations

Map of Sabah, Malaysia
Map of Sabah, Malaysia. Photo: Yodod/flickr.

Despite playing second string to the South China Sea disputes in recent years, the state of Sabah (also known as North Borneo) has long been a major irritant in bilateral relations between the Philippines and Malaysia. However, a lasting resolution of this longstanding issue would help cement bilateral ties between the two countries, enhance maritime security and help regulate seaborne trade. Finally, a resolution may help determine the fate of thousands of Filipino refugees, migrants and their descendants in Sabah, many of whom remain stateless to this day.