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Hundreds flee Sabah as crackdown continues

More than 700 Filipinos leave at the weekend

Joe Torres, Manila

March 11, 2013

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A Filipino exodus from Sabah accelerated over the weekend with about 200 people leaving the troubled Malaysian province on Saturday and more than 500 following on Sunday, as security forces continued to kill and arrest supporters of the Sulu sultan.

The Philippines social welfare office sent rice, noodles and canned goods to Filipinos who had fled to Turtle Island in Tawi Tawi, just across the strait separating the two countries.

“We will continue to give the returnees relief goods as long as needed,” said Corazon Soliman, the social welfare secretary.

Malaysian security forces said on Monday that the bodies of at least 22 suspected followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III had been retrieved out of at least 54 who were killed following a three-week standoff in Lahad Datu which turned violent on March 1.

Since then a mopping up operation in Sabah has led to the arrest of about 100 people believed to be supporters of the sultan and his centuries-old claim to the eastern half of the province.

Last week, Malaysia ignored a unilateral ceasefire by the sultan and continued to demand the unconditional surrender of his followers.

Abrahan Idjirani, Kiram's spokesman, said on Monday that the Sulu sultanate's next move is to bring the issue before the Organization of Islamic Conference after he said Malaysia ignored a call by the United Nations to end the violence in Sabah.

Idjirani also denied reports of beheadings and mutilations committed by the sultan's followers in Sabah.

"We know that these are all propaganda," he said.

The Philippines Foreign Affairs Ministry on Monday asked the Malaysian government to clarify reports that Filipinos in Lahad Datu, the scene of the standoff, were being rounded up and subjected to human rights violations.

Malaysia has denied soldiers and police have mistreated Filipinos in Sabah amid reports that shots were fired at those leaving the province over the weekend.

“The reports are alarming and should be properly and immediately addressed by the concerned authorities,” said Assistant Foreign Affairs Secretary Raul Hernandez.

The Philippines was still being denied humanitarian and consular access to those arrested and wounded in Sabah, he added.

On Monday, the Manila-based Commission on Human Rights called for a regional-level joint mission on Sabah to look into alleged abuses by Malaysian security forces.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said the situation in Sabah "is still quite murky" as he called on the Malaysian government to "provide clear and accurate information on what has occurred."

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