MANILA, Philippines --- Four battalions of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters are ready to be deployed to Sabah to reinforce the armed followers of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo who are currently in the disputed territory to claim their "ancestral home."
MNLF Commander Lito Dicay revealed this Tuesday, saying MNLF leaders are discussing a brigade-size contingent to fight alongside Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram and his forces. He said an MNLF brigade consists of four battalions.
"My battalion has completed guerrilla training and we are ready to go anytime a directive is given," said Dicay, who is based in the Iranun enclave of Maguindanao that covers Barira, Buldon, Matanog, Parang, and parts of Sultan Kudarat and Mastura towns, as well as in Kapatagan, Lanao del Sur.
Dicay, however, declined to identify who will be responsible in giving out the deployment order, other than saying "it is from the Bangsamoro."
He made it clear, though, that he is under the leadership of MNLF founding Chairman Nur Misuari.
In early March, Misuari admitted the presence of MNLF fighters among the rajah muda's men, but clarified their presence was not upon his order.
Dicay said his battalion is the MNLF's "Iranun Battalion" composed of descendants of the warriors of Maguindanao's Sultan Kudarat, who helped the sultan of Sulu quell an uprising against the sultan of Brunei.
Based on the Sulu Sultanate's records, the sultan of Brunei rewarded the Sulu sultan with North Borneo (now Sabah) for helping his forces. This historical record is the basis of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III's revival of the clan's claim over Sabah.
Dicay said they have Iranun relatives in Sabah who have been living there for many years.
He said that some 800 MNLF forces have already landed on the island to fight with the rajah muda.
Dicay said that if the order is for them to be a peacekeeping force, they are willing to accept it in as much as they ready to fight with the forces of the Sulu sultanate.
When told that getting to Sabah by sea is difficult because of Philippine and Malaysian Navy patrols, he said, "We know our way; and we will go in batches."
As this developed, Acmad Bayam, former chief propagandist of the MNLF and former trainee on Jampiras Island off Malaysia's mainland, predicted that Malaysia's problem with the Sultanate of Sulu under Sultan Jamalul Kiram III will not go away easily.
"I foresee an even bigger crisis re: Sabah as I believe the Kirams and their loyal followers are determined to pursue their claim," said Bayam.
At the early stage of the Sabah standoff, it was Bayam who revealed the MNLF participation.
On Tuesday, he said he was also told by an MNLF commander belonging to "OCZA" (Operation Commander Zapata) that MNLF leaders have also created "Task Force Iliji" which is being planned for Sabah.
He said OCZA is a codenamed for MNLF commanders who trained militarily in Libya and Syria, while "Iliji" is the name of a Misuari forebear who was with the Sulu sultan's forces that fought alongside the Brunei sultans' followers.
Abraham J. Idjirani, spokesman of the Sulu sultanate, said he also heard about the formation of the MNLF's Task Force Iliji.