Media agencies threatened with legal action
Malaysian Defense Minister Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi warned Philippines media agencies on Tuesday that they could be sued for “wrong” media reports of operations to kill and arrest supporters of the Sulu sultan Jamalulu Kiram III in Sabah.
While Malaysian mopping-up operations continue after a three-week standoff with supporters of the sultan, media outlets in Manila have reported that Filipinos were being dragged out of their houses, ordered to run and fired at.
The reports prompted Philippines House of Representatives Assistant Majority Leader Karlo Alexei Nograles to say on Tuesday that the Malaysian action against Filipinos in Sabah was “totally unacceptable.”
"There are even reports that women and children who have nothing to do with the Sabah claim of Sultan Kiram are being attacked by Malaysian security forces,” he said.
But Zahid denied allegations that Malaysian security forces were maltreating Filipinos. “I hope [the Philippines media] will exercise caution and write only the truth,” he said in a statement by the state-run Bernama news agency.
The Malaysian official added that "inaccurate" reports could "undermine" diplomatic ties between Manila and Kuala Lumpur.
The Malaysian government – which faces a tight general election race by mid-year – has itself been accused of media manipulation. In the wake of the clash with the sultan’s supporters on March 1, it stated that nearly a dozen of them had been arrested and the rest had fled back to the Philippines, but failed to mention how many had been killed.
On Tuesday, senior Filipino government officials met to discuss ways of ensuring the safety of Filipinos as the number of refugees in the provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were expected to rise in the coming days. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said about 1,500 have already arrived.
"It's possible that tomorrow, there will be 10,000," he said.
An estimated 800,000 Filipinos live in Sabah, many from areas within the Sulu Sultanate.
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