Philippines seeks peaceful solution to Borneo stand-off

The Philippines on Saturday called for a peaceful resolution to a tense stand-off between Malaysian forces and a group of gunmen claiming to be followers of the heir of a former Borneo sultan.

The group, estimated at 200 with dozens believed to be armed, landed by boat near the Borneo town of Lahad Datu in Malaysia's Sabah state from the neighbouring Philippines on Tuesday.

Police say the group has declared itself followers of a former Philippine-based Islamic sultanate that once controlled parts of Borneo, including the standoff site, and is refusing to leave Malaysian territory.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino's spokeswoman Abigail Valte said Saturday the safety of the Filipinos was the government's main concern as Malaysian armed forces and police have locked down the area.

"The primary concern now is their safety and to resolve the incident peacefully," Valte said in a radio interview in Manila.

She said the Philippines had received assurance from Malaysia that the government would encourage the group, which Manila has yet to identify, to leave the area peacefully.

Sabah police chief Hamza Taib was quoted by local dailies as saying police were in negotiations with the group and expected the stand-off to be resolved "very soon with the group returning to their home country".

Malaysian police have set up a series of road blocks along the route leading from Lahad Datu through palm oil plantations to the remote village where the gunmen are. Marine police were also patrolling the sea.

An AFP photographer was denied access some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the stand-off site.

The group involved in the impasse has claimed to be adherents of the former Sulu sultanate, a regional power centre until its demise a century ago.

A Philippine military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP Friday the group was demanding an increase in the nominal amount Malaysia pays, under a long-standing agreement, to the heirs of the sultanate for possession of Sabah.

Sabah has a history of incursions by armed Philippine groups, and the prickly situation could test ties between the neighbours, who are fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In the worst incident, guerrillas of the Islamic militant Abu Sayyaf movement seized 21 mostly Western tourists at the Sabah scuba diving resort of Sipadan in 2000. They were taken to Philippine islands and later ransomed.

  • How a mom stole a car in under 60 seconds 9 hours ago
    How a mom stole a car in under 60 seconds

    “I didn't steal your car but I think my mom may have. It's a long story. I'll explain, but your car is safe and sound," read the flier posted in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It’s a strange tale that began when Cheyrl Thorpe was asked by her daughter Nekisia Davis to dog sit her Pomeranian at her apartment, according to New York Magazine.

  • All-new 2015 Subaru Outback reestablishes higher ground 11 hours ago
    All-new 2015 Subaru Outback reestablishes higher ground

    Much of Subaru’s modern day success in America can be attributed to one car: the Outback. Born in 1994 as a response to the growing popularity of SUVs, the Outback established a winning formula of combining a high-riding suspension, butch body cladding and big round fog lights to its comfortable, no-nonsense Legacy wagon. It is the kind of unique product that only a quirky company like Subaru could build, and was one that kept Subaru from slipping into ubiquity even as traditional SUVs and crossovers have taken over the world.

  • Custom faux-tique electric tram aims to replace New York's horses over the neigh-sayers 12 hours ago
    Custom faux-tique electric tram aims to replace New York's horses over the neigh-sayers

    For the record, it's the year 2014. I mention that in case someone reading this story about a push to replace horses with motorized carriages thinks they've stumbled onto some archival piece by accident. It's been more than 100 years since the first vehicles began to trundle around Manhattan, but the last remaining vestiges of horse-powered transport in the city could be nigh — if the backers of a massive electric wagon get their way.

  • Singaporeans slam NEA's $120 licence requirement for tissue sellers
    Singaporeans slam NEA's $120 licence requirement for tissue sellers

    Singaporeans on social media reacted angrily to news that tissue sellers at hawker centres and street corners are being required to pay for an annual licence.

  • Heartbreaking texts from students on sinking S. Korea ferry
    Heartbreaking texts from students on sinking S. Korea ferry

    Heart-wrenching messages of fear, love and despair, sent by high school students from a sinking South Korean ferry, added extra emotional weight Thursday to a tragedy that has stunned the nation. Nearly 300 people -- most of them students on a high school trip to a holiday island -- are still missing after the ferry capsized and sank on Wednesday morning. Mom, I love you," student Shin Young-Jin said in a text to his mother that was widely circulated in the South Korean media.

  • ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says
    ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says

    KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — The “huge” statues at a Hindu temple in Batu Caves and Buddhist temple in Penang are an affront to Islam as the religion forbids idolatry, a retired Court of Appeals judge...