MANILA, Philippines - The group of Filipinos who crossed into the Malaysian state of Sabah to reclaim it as their territory last week should "leave peacefully to prevent further bloodshed," the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday, February 18.
"We are endeavoring to have the group leave Lahad Datu peacefully and this remains to be a work in progress in coordination with the Malaysian government. We want this issue to be settled in a peaceful manner," DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez told Rappler in a text message.
Hernandez noted that the Philippine government appreciates the Malaysian government's "resolve" to handle the issue "through negotiation."
"As to who the group is and its objectives, we don't have an official confirmation yet," he added.
Meanwhile, security officials in Sabah continue to plan the deportation of the Filipinos as negotiations have come to an end."
"We did not entertain any demands set by them and also did not give them any recognition," Malaysian Internal Security and Public Order Director Salleh Mat Rasid said on Sunday, February 17.
According to the online site of Malaysian newspaper Daily Express, Salleh explained the foreigners have not been yet transferred back to Tawi-Tawi because the weather has not been good for sea travel.
"What is important is that the safety of this State is always guaranteed and we will go through with the deportation soon," said Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib.
No timeline for deportation
Hamza added that "police are making efforts to deport them" but refused to specify exactly when that will happen.
"Now we can only carry out the process of sending them back so that they can find a suitable channel to air their demands," he explained, and added: "Whether they agree or not, we have to deport them (…) They are not supposed to say anything, they are in our country."
Hamza denied rumors that the group had flown a Philippine flag in the area and that Ismail Kiram, a descendant of the Sulu sultanate was involved in the negotiations.
Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram said on Sunday in Manila that his followers -- some 400 people including 20 gunmen, although Malaysia puts the number at 80-100 -- will not leave despite being cornered by security forces.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte called on Saturday for a peaceful resolution to the dispute.
The southern Philippine-based Islamic sultanate once controlled parts of Borneo, including the site of the standoff.
Its heirs have been receiving a nominal yearly compensation package from Malaysia under a long-standing agreement for possession of Sabah. (Read: Sabah standoff: 'Publicity stunt.') - with reports from Carlos Santamaria & Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com