MANILA, Philippines – Days after the standoff in Sabah turned bloody, the crisis has turned into a political issue in Malaysia, where the government is investigating possible links between the opposition and the Filipino gunmen, local media reported on Monday, March 4.
Prime Minister Najib Razak on Sunday, March 3, announced he had ordered the intelligence services to probe a claim that an opposition leader “had a hand in the armed intrusion” in Lahad Datu.
Najib said he found suspicious that armed men decided to cross over to Sabah when the Malaysian state is about to hold a general election, but admitted there must be “strong evidence” to identify the mastermind of the conspiracy theory.
The Philippines is also preparing for its own mid-term elections. At a press conference Monday, President Benigno Aquino III said people conspired to cause the Sabah standoff, and that the government has the identities of some of the conspirators. (Read: Aquino: Sabah is a conspiracy)
Najib said, as quoted by the state news agency Bernama: “All avenues must be investigated. President Aquino also wants to know the truth. The whole episode is a major embarrassment for the Philippine government.”
Reuters news agency reported on February 14 that the group led by Raja Muda Kiram had been invited to Sabah by a Malaysian opposition politician “to discuss land issues.”
The claim was also published in several Malaysian blogs, a number of which tagged former deputy prime minister and now opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim as the instigator of the Sabah standoff.
‘Baseless, slanderous and malicious’
Anwar on Monday reacted to the controversy and denied all allegations linking him to the crisis.
“It is a baseless, slanderous and malicious report,” Anwar’s lawyer told a press conference in Petaling Jaya, according to The Malaysian Insider.
The politician himself earlier said he never reached out to the followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III although admitted meeting MILF officials and Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari.
“Nur Musuari met with everyone and yes I met him but what does that have to do with anything. The group in Sabah is a different group,” he stressed.
In the late 1990s, Anwar was being groomed to succeed longtime Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, but a falling out with his mentor led to two trials and several years behind bars. He eventually became the country’s main political opposition leader and enemy of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition government.
Opposition ‘promised a lot of things’
The conspiracy theory involving the opposition was also taken seriously by Mahathir, who told reporters on Sunday that an unnamed politician “promised a lot of things” for Sabah including giving autonomy if the opposition were to win the next general election” after the standoff.
“Dr. M” urged the government to take drastic action against the Filipino gunmen and be prepared for retaliations by Sultan Kiram’s followers in the southern Philippines.
“We cannot underestimate them, even though at first we think that their attempt to capture Sabah is a futile act, but they can become guerrillas and launch sporadic attacks in future,” Mahathir said, Bernama reported.
The influential former Malaysian leader defended the government’s efforts to avoid violence in the initial stages of the standoff.
“That’s why we acted cautiously at first. After all, they are Muslims, and we are Muslims. We do not want to be hasty, but they acted in bad faith by gunning down two of our policemen. Now, the stalemate can no longer be resolved through negotiation,” he said.
‘Hang the traitors’
Amid the controversy, firebrand Malaysian journalist and blogger Kadir Jasin suggested on Monday to “hang the traitors” if any of the militants involved in the standoff are in fact Malaysian citizens of Filipino origin.
“If they are Malaysians, no matter how remote the chances are, who are involved in the invasion and occupation by the armed Filipinos in Sabah, we should hang these traitors by their necks (…) until their feet stop kicking,” Kadir wrote in his column for The Malaysian Insider.
The controversial author also called for members of the Malaysian political opposition who may have instigated the standoff to also be hanged and for the government to take responsibility for the security breach in Sabah.
Kadir wrote that the ones to blame should not be policemen or soldiers but the men on top in the ministries of Defense and Home Affairs, both staunch allies of the prime minister. – Rappler.com