COTABATO CITY, Philippines – The largest faction in the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on Friday called on the Malaysian government and the Sulu Sultanate’s followers to observe a ceasefire to prevent further bloodshed in Sabah.



Cotabato City Vice-Mayor Muslimin Sema, chairman of what is touted as the biggest of all three groups in the MNLF, said prolonging the hostilities in the mineral-rich island will affect the lives of thousands of Malaysians and Moro communities in the area.


Sema, speaking to reporters, said parties should hold a dialogue based on Islamic teachings on consensus-building to resolve the crisis.


“We are for an immediate end of the bloodshed there. Malaysia is not our enemy. We, in fact, regard Malaysia as a ‘big brother’ for having helped us in the MNLF when we fought the Philippine government,” Sema said.


Sema recalled members of the MNLF were allowed to take refuge in some of Malaysia's islands by Kuala Lumpur in the '70s.


Sema added that they remain grateful for Malaysia's continued support to the Mindanao peace process.

“Problems and misunderstandings can be discussed amicably, without bloodshed,” Sema said.


Sema also urged, on his group’s behalf, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to pursue peaceful means to reassert the latter's claim over Sabah.


A nephew in Kidapawan City of Kiram on Thursday said his uncle “erred” in allowing the sultan's followers to bring in guns to Lahad Datu to highlight their bid to regain control of Sabah, a resource-rich island.


“One big mistake of the sultan’s followers was that they carried with them firearms,” said Marinod Austria, 50 and an entrepreneur who operates vast tract of banana farms in North Cotabato.


Austria is the son of the sultan’s brother, Omar Kiram. Austria said he is using Austria as his surname because Omar was adopted by a Filipino-American World War II veteran in the early 1940s.


Austria said his father, also called Sultan Omar, had served as personal secretary of then Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay before the latter became president.

“If they went there without arms, the Malaysian authorities might have talked to them and there would have been no violence at all,” Austria said. “Going there with firearms is different from going there for a peaceful dialogue."