MILF does not want to get involved: chairman

JOHOR BAHRU, March 6 (Bernama) -- The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest rebel group in the Philippines, is not involved in the confrontation between the Sulu gunmen linked to the so-called Sulu Sultanate and Malaysia's security forces in eastern Sabah.

Its chairman, Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, said the confrontation between armed followers of the 'Sultan of Sulu' and Malaysia's security forces in Lahad Datu and Semporna was a matter for Kuala Lumpur and the Manila administration to solve.

"The problem there (confrontation between Sulu gunmen and Malaysia's security forces) is between the Malaysian Government and the Philippines. We leave it to them to solve it.

"Our people are not involved in the intrusion. We don't want to get involved in the matter, we don't want to complicate it," he told Bernama in an exclusive interview via telephone from his stronghold at Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, southern Philippines today.

After three weeks of failed negotiations, Malaysia yesterday dispatched fighter jets and ground troops in armoured personnel carriers to storm the seaside village of Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu, where the Sulu gunmen are holed up.

The pre-dawn security operation, codenamed 'Ops Daulat', had been successful and attained its objectives, according to Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar and Armed Forces Chief Gen Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zain.

The security operation to flush out the terrorists, involving more than 2,000 combined forces of the police and the army, is ongoing at this point in time.

Since the intrusion three weeks ago, eight police personnel have been killed in two separate incidents, while 19 of the terrorists, followers of Jamalul Kiram III, were also killed in sporadic firefights.

On the action of the terrorists in invading eastern Sabah and claiming it as their ancestral homeland, the MILF chairman said he did not want to comment further, in line with the front's non-interference stance taken on the matter.

Nevertheless, he earnestly hoped the Malaysian Government and the terrorists could solve the matter peacefully.

"We are hopeful that the problem will be solved peacefully," he said.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, in his quest to solve the matter peacefully, had extended numerous deadlines to the terrorists to leave Kampung Tanduo and return to the Philippines.

However, the terrorists rebuffed Najib's peace efforts to end the armed stand-off and maintained their ground in Kampung Tanduo, leaving the government with no choice.

On news reports coming from the Philippines stating the fighters from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) were ready to join in the fray to help the terrorists, Al-Haj Murad said, he did not know about it as it involved another group.

On whether the peace deal between them and the Philippine Government which was brokered by Malaysia, suffered as a result of the Sabah intrusion, he said it did not.