Indonesian migrant workers evacuated amidst Sabah standoff
Tue, March 5 2013 20:07 | 1746 Views
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - A standoff between Malaysian security forces and armed Filipinos, which was initially considered as a bizarre incident, has continued since last month without a peaceful solution in sight so far.
Map of Sabah.
"No Indonesian becomes victims in the firefight..."
The Indonesian authorities have been following closely the incident which claimed at least 27 lives mostly the armed Filipinos in Sabah, because thousands of Indonesian workers are being employed mainly in oil palm plantations in the Malaysian state.
Since February 12, 2013, a number of armed Filipinos have occupied plantations belonging to the Malaysian government at Lahad Datu area, Sabah, Indonesian Consul General Soepeno Sahid said in Nunukan District, East Kalimantan, on March 2, 2013.
The standoff between Malaysian security forces and armed Filipinos erupted in violence on March 1, killing two Malaysian police officers and 12 members of self-style Sulu Sultanate of the Philippines as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak declared his patience had run out, Reuters reported.
The group, numbering about 180, say they are descendants of the sultanate of Sulu in the southern Philippines, which ruled parts of northern Borneo for centuries.
They are demanding recognition and an increased payment from Malaysia for their claim as the rightful owners of Sabah.
As the tension has escalated, the Indonesian Consulate General in Sabah, has decided to evacuate around 600 Indonesian migrant workers from oil palm plantation Felda Sahabat 17, Malaysia, to a safer place.
"No Indonesian becomes victims in the firefight between the Malaysian forces and the armed Filipinos because we have evacuated them all to another place. The migrant workers are very worried, however," Soepeno said.
The workers would be returned to the plantation Felda Sahabat 17 when the area is safe, he added.
Nila, an Indonesian migrant worker in a Sabah plantation said his employer has prohibited workers from going out at night and asked them to be vigilant when entering Felda Sahabat 17 plantation area.
"They (the armed group) have never disturbed Indonesian migrant workers although they have controlled palm oil plantation at Felda Sahabat 17," Nila said.
The Indonesian ministry in Jakarta, however, said in a statement on March 4, 2013, that as many as 162 Indonesian oil palm plantation workers in Lahad Datu have been evacuated to a location around six kilometers away from the conflict center.
The ministry`s director of information and media, PLE Priatna, said "a total of 162 workers in the Sahabat 17 oil palm plantation have been evacuated to Embara Complex around six kilometers from the scene."
Chief of the Nunukan Migrant Workers Service, Placement and Protection Agency (BP3TKI) M Sapri said his office has been monitoring the evacuation process of the Indonesian workers from the conflict area.
According to him, the Indonesian representative office in Sabah confirmed that at least 600 Indonesians were evacuated from Felda Sahabat 17 plantation to avoid gunfights between the Malaysian Security forces and the Filipino group.
Despite the fact that around 600,000 Indonesians are estimated to have worked in Sabah, BP3TKI issued only around 8,000 identity (ID) cards for migrant workers during 2012, based on the workers` requests.
Most of the Indonesians working in Sabah are holding passports issued by the Indonesian representative offices in Sabah, Sapri said, adding that those having the migrant workers` ID cards from Nunukan are they who have had their passports issued in Indonesia, before they left for Malaysia.
"The problem is, most of the workers in Sabah have received their passports from our representative offices there," he explained.
The East Kalimantan BP3TKI has discussed the need for Indonesian workers to have their special ID cards with Indonesian representatives offices in Malaysia, particularly the Indonesian consulates in Tawau and Kinabalu.
He said it is difficult to return Indonesian workers to Nunukan because their Malaysian employers do not give them permission to leave Sabah.
Although there is no plan to repatriate the Indonesian workers, the Nunukan Police are anticipating an exodus of Indonesians from Lahad Datu.
A coordinating meeting to anticipate such an exodus was held in the Nunukan police office on Monday, Head of the Tunon Taka Harbor Security Police Unit Adjunct Commissioner Sumarwanta said in Nunukan, on March 5, 2013.
The meeting was attended by representatives of Nunukan seaport administration, customs and excise office, shipping company PT Pelindo IV and Nunukan police.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian military is tightening control in the frontier area against possible disruption of security as a result of the conflict in Sabah state which shares border with Nunukan District, East Kalimantan.
Commander of the border military task force Major Ari Aryanto in Nunukan, on March 4, 2013, said the conflict already claimed lives, therefore, the Indonesian military has to tighten security control in the frontier area.
All security guard posts have to be always on the alert against possible undesired condition, Ari Aryanto.
He said 23 of 29 guard posts are located on the border with Malaysia`s Sabah.
"All soldiers in the guard posts have been ordered to remain on guard to prevent armed foreigners from entering the Indonesian territory," he said.
He did not rule out the possibility of the conflict from spreading closer to the border area disturbing security in Indonesian territory in the Nunukan regency.
"We will remain on guard for 24 hours a day with patrols intensified including at night," he said.
He said last weekend he received information about an armed group from the Philippines that moved closer to the Indonesian-Malaysian border to attack the Malaysian border guards.
The border areas that are feared to be penetrated by foreign armed group are the Islands of Sebatik and Seimenggaris , where there are many unguarded roads, he said.
"The fighting soldiers could easily entered the Indonesian territory as both Sebatik and Seimenggaris, which share the border with Sabah," he said.
The military border guards have monitored all roads earlier left unguarded , he said.
Malaysians have been shocked by the Filipino militant incursion, which began when an estimated 100-300 people landed on the shores of Sabah on February 12, claiming the state for the heir to a former Philippine sultanate.
Both the Philippine and Malaysian governments had repeatedly urged them to return home. Malaysina Prime Minister Najib Razak told state-run Bernama news agency he had given Malaysian security forces a mandate to take "any action" against the group following the clash.
Philippine President Banigno S. Aquino III urged the followers of the Sultan of Sulu who are still holed up in Lahad Datu to surrender without conditions to prevent further loss of lives.
A spokesman for the armed group, Abraham Idjirani, told reporters in Manila that the men had moved to another location to continue their fight and urged Malaysia to hold talks.
The group is demanding recognition from Malaysia and renegotiation of the original terms of a lease on Sabah by the Sultanate to a British trading company in the 19th century. Malaysian officials have said the group`s demands will not be met.
The state of Sabah, with an area of 76,115 square kilometers, is the second largest member of the Federation of Malaysia. Of the more than 600,000 Filipinos in Malaysia, majority are in Sabah, most of them undocumented.
The Philippines claims ownership of Sabah based on the title of the Sultan of Sulu. Historical records state that in 1704, North Borneo, which includes Sabah, was given to the Sultan of Sulu by the Sultan of Brunei for helping him quell a rebellion.
In 1878, the Sultan of Sulu leased the territory to the British North Borneo Company. It was included when the Federation of Malaysia was formed in 1963.
The Philippine government, then under President Diosdado Macapagal brought the issue to the United Nations. In an UN-supervised referendum in 1963, majority of the people of Sabah preferred to be part of Malaysia. (*)
Editor: Priyambodo RH
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