Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Malaysian authorities have barred the humanitarian team sent by the Philippine government from entering Lahad Datu, stopping the group at Kota Kinabalu, a member of the team told the INQUIRER on Saturday.
"Upon reaching Sabah, the Malaysian authorities didn't allow us to proceed to Lahad Datu. We were only allowed to stay in [Kota Kinabalu], so we left the place two days ago," Mayor Nazif Ahmad Abdurahman of Simunul, Tawi-Tawi, told the INQUIRER by phone.
Abdurahman was among local officials from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) who were sent by Acting Gov. Mujiv Hataman to meet and talk with Agbimuddin Kiram in Lahad Datu.
Navy ship stopped
"Our mission didn't materialize because of the restrictions imposed by the Malaysian authorities," Abdurahman said.
He said even the Philippine Navy ship sent to Malaysia to secure all illegally staying Filipinos wanting to come home had been denied entry by the Malaysian border patrol.
"The ship just anchored off Sibutu and has been there for five days already," Abdurahman said.
Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo, chief of the military in Western Mindanao, confirmed that the Navy ship was still in Philippine waters as of Saturday.
"The Navy boat was not able to get through the Malaysian border," Ardo, who also has jurisdiction over the Navy in Western Mindanao, said.
Ardo said the military wanted to help Filipinos in Sabah, including those from the group led by Agbimuddin, to come home, but it could not do anything because the ship sent to bring them home could not get through border security.
How to cross border
He said the military learned that some of Agbimuddin's followers and those illegally staying in Sabah wanted to return home.
"The problem they are facing now is how to cross the border," Ardo said.
The Malaysian border patrol has restricted movements into and out of Sabah, he said.
A government source, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the Sabah issue, said he was told the Malaysian authorities would allow Philippine representatives to see Agbimuddin and his followers only after the so-called Sulu royal army had surrendered and laid down arms.
"The problem with the Kirams is that they refuse to surrender," the source said.
The source said Agbimuddin had called up relatives in Sulu and asked them to help bring home some members of his group.
"Among the requests is to provide them security and bring them to Simunul Island," the source added.