Thousands flee Sabah

MANILA, Philippines - Almost 5,000 Filipinos have fled Sabah since security forces launched an offensive to root out Islamic invaders loyal to Jamalul Kiram III, a government agency said Saturday, March 30.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NRRMC) said it recorded 4,983 adults and children who arrived in the south of the archipelago after fleeing Sabah due to the ongoing fighting.

Paslur Abdullah, executive director of the government center in charge of caring for the new arrivals, said the total was likely to be higher as many would have returned without registering.

"They arrive on small vessels. Some of them disembark without registering and they are met by relatives. We cannot detain them," he told AFP, adding that it was not known if any of the invaders were among those fleeing.

FLEEING SABAH: Inside Coast Guard's BRP EDSA DOS. Carmela Fonbuena/RAPPLER


Carmela Fonbuena/RAPPLER

The Filipinos began arriving in early March after clashes broke out between Malaysian forces and followers of Kiram who claims Sabah as his territory.

Some 200 followers of Kiram, some of them armed, arrived in Sabah in February in an attempt to claim the Malaysian state for the sultanate, reviving a centuries-old territorial row.

The incursion and a Malaysian counter-assault has left more than 60 militants dead along with 10 security personnel, according to Malaysian authorities, and strained relations with Manila.

President Benigno Aquino III had previously expressed concern that the unrest in Sabah might displace the estimated 800,000 Filipinos working there. -