'Small window' to end Sabah conflict

MANILA, Philippines – The Aquino administration wants to take advantage of a "small window" to prevent further bloodshed in Sabah, a Palace spokesman said Friday night, March 1.

“There’s a small window that still exists to prevent further bloodshed, and to end this without any more loss of life," Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang told reporters. "We are exerting every effort now to use that window to try to contain and prevent any more violence. And we urge the Kiram family to seize this opportunity."

He did not elaborate, adding that the situation remained very sensitive and that other details could not be discussed fully.

The Malaysian government confirmed at least 12 followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III were killed in the Friday morning assault on Lahad Datu that was meant to end the 17-day standoff. Two members of the Malaysian security forces were also killed.

Carandang conceded the standoff could not be considered over because there were still Malaysian forces and the followers of Kiram in the area. (Read: Sultan fears crackdown)

Carandang noted that Malaysian Prime Minister Najbi Razak has also said he wanted to peacefully end the conflict. "We have no reason to believe otherwise," Carandang added. “We’re taking him at his word."

Carandang said he was not aware of any communications between President Benigno Aquino III and Prime Minister Najib. “There were a number of channels that were being used, while the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) is one of them,” he said.

Carandang said the Philippine government would provide consular and medical assistance to the Filipinos in Sabah and had requested “full access” to the ship that would take them there through Tandou, a coastal village in Lahad Datu. (Read: PH sends note verbale to Malaysia)

He said there was no response to the request yet.

Carandang said they were in the meeting the whole afternoon Friday and “our priority and our concern is, especially the President, is to just find a way to resolve this peacefully.”

President Aquino met with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, Interior and Local Government Manuel Roxas II, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Presidential Managament Staff chief Julia Abad, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia, Carandang, and various military and police officials.

“We condole with the families of those who were [killed],” he said.

The Sultan's followers sailed to Sabah from Simunul in Tawi-Tawi to revive the Sabah claim, saying they also felt left out of the peace process between the Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. – Rappler.com