LAHAD DATU, Malaysia - Hopes are growing for a peaceful solution to the standoff between Malaysian security forces and the self-proclaimed Royal Army of Sulu.
The delicate negotiations going on with the emissaries are believed to be bearing fruit, and among those sharing an optimistic view is Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, who arrived at Felda Sahabat 16 to get a first-hand view of the situation.
Musa, who is state security council chairman, was given a briefing at the General Operations Force (GOF) security post at Felda Sahabat 16, about 165km from here.
Amidst growing public and political pressure for firmer action against the armed group as the country prepares for the general election, Musa said he was optimistic that the standoff would end peacefully soon.
"Our stand is for negotiations and a peaceful end to the incident," he said, urging the Sulu group, led by Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, to return on their own accord as they had breached international laws by entering Sabah.
"We do not want to see the possibility of our security forces using other alternatives to move them out," he told reporters at the GOF base after the briefing on Ops Sulu.
Those close to the negotiations have, however, declined to reveal what was being used to entice the group to return to southern Philippines, whether a deadline to deport them by today would be kept or if the negotiations could be prolonged with a new set of emissaries.
Malaysian authorities have turned down their demands for recognition of the royal army of the Sulu sultanate and Sabah as their ancestral home.
Since the arrival of the first group of gunmen on the shores of Kg Tanduo in Felda Sahabat 17 on Feb 9, the security forces have maintained a tight cordon with police, army and maritime units in position to move in at any time.
Assuring the public that the security forces were on top of the situation, Musa said the incident should not be politicised by any group.
The Chief Minister, who was accompanied by his deputy Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan and Sabah police chief Datuk Hamza Taib, criticised DAP leader Lim Kit Siang and the Sabah Progressive Party for politicising the issue.
"We are very saddened by their attitude as they are trying to exploit the situation by claiming that we have been doing nothing," he added.
Musa's statement follows Lim's visit to Felda Sabahat 16 on Wednesday when he said he was ready to assist in the negotiations with the Sulu group.