Philippines' Sabah claim a non-issue, says Najib

Mr Najib (second from left) with Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman (far left) viewing a sail past of Royal Malaysian Navy patrol boats, after officiating the opening of a naval base in Semporna, Sabah, yesterday. The base was set up after Filipino gunme
Mr Najib (second from left) with Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman (far left) viewing a sail past of Royal Malaysian Navy patrol boats, after officiating the opening of a naval base in Semporna, Sabah, yesterday. The base was set up after Filipino gunmen intruded into a town in Sabah three years ago.PHOTO: FOTOBERNAMA

LAHAD DATU • Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday that the claim on Sabah is a non-issue as the Borneo state has been recognised by the United Nations as a part of Malaysia since 1963.

He was reacting to comments by Filipino President-elect Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday that he will press the Philippines' contentious claim over Sabah.

Mr Duterte had told reporters: "What has been the policy will always be the policy of the government, especially those for the interest of the country. We have to stake our claim."

Datuk Seri Najib's response yesterday: "It is a non-issue."

He said Sabah's independence through Malaysia came as a result of the Cobbold Commission's findings and the state has been internationally recognised as a Malaysian state since 1963. "As such, no group can make any claim on Sabah," Mr Najib said. "We will defend every inch of Sabah's sovereignty."

He was speaking in Lahad Datu after a ground-breaking ceremony for a new forward helicopter base.

In February 2013, some 200 armed men from the Philippines' Sulu archipelago landed in Lahad Datu, a town and district on the east of Sabah, in a move seen as laying an old Sulu claim over Sabah. Malaysian security forces fought against them, resulting in some 100 people killed on both sides.

In his comments on Thursday, Mr Duterte did not say how he intends to pursue the claim on Sabah.

There is a concern that if pursued aggressively, the claim could further complicate diplomacy within Asean, which is already divided over how to address China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. There are also disputes over fishing rights in the sea.

In February, the self-proclaimed "35th Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo" Phugdalun Kiram II said he would press his family's claim to Sabah, but through an "international conference". Mr Kiram took the helm following the death of his brother Esmail Kiram II.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 29, 2016, with the headline 'Philippines' Sabah claim a non-issue, says Najib'. Print Edition | Subscribe