Saturday, March 9, 2013

Terrorism? Invasion? Intrusion? What is it, then? The Sabah Standoff

Source: Malaysia's Ministry of Defence
This is not to justify the actions of the armed men who sailed to Lahad Datu. This is to understand why Malaysia reacted in such a way, or an attempt in that direction to understand Malaysia's reaction.

We learn in Physics as Newton's third law of motion; for every action, there is an equal or opposite reaction.

How could Malaysian government justify its large-scale military operations involving airstrikes and bombardments against hundreds of armed men cordoned in a village in Lahad Datu district in Sabah (North Borneo)?

What about labeling the actions of those several armed men as terrorism!

Ok, what are the actions of those armed men? What did they do?

On 11 February 2013, more than 200 people believed to be followers of the Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III, entered Sabah (North Borneo) by motorboats. They were led by Agbimuddin Kiram (Rajah Muda), a brother of the Sultan.They set foot and assembled in a Tanduo village in Lahad Datu district. Because several of them were armed, many locals fled the area in fear of their security. However, the group of Rajah Muda declared that they were there to reclaim what they rightfully own and live on what they call their homeland. Tracing historical documents, the Sultanate of Sulu claims that North Borneo is never ceded to Malaysia. (See for detailed historical perspective of the claim here).

After 17 days in Tanduo village in Lahad Datu district, no violence committed by those armed men was reported. There is no international binding definition of terrorism, but there are generally accepted elements of terrorism, such as the use of violence and the threat of it to civilians. After 30 days, there were eight (8) casualties from the Malaysian side and 53 from the claimants. All eight (8) casualties from the Malaysian side are policemen. No Malaysian civilian is reported to have died or wounded after 30 days of stand-off. The violence happened on the 18th day when the Malaysian commandos started to move into the village where the armed  claimants are holed up.

Terrorism may not be apt to describe the actions of the claimants, in this case. This is in direct contrast to the 2008 Mumbai incident when armed men shot indiscriminately and killed 164 people in the 4-day rampage. That was plain terrorism, and this? Hmmmmmm...

So let's try calling it invasion.

Well, the reported number of the claimants ranges from more than 200 to less than 300 people. Their small-scale operation enabled them to sneak into Lahad Datu without being noticed by Malaysian authorities. By no measure it can be called invasion on a territory that has tens of thousands of square kilometers in land area. Size, scale, and magnitude are essential elements of an armed action to be considered invasion.

Ok, probably it is intrusion.

You think so? Well, the armed men came uninvited. They claimed that they have the documents to prove their ownership of the property. Malaysian government must contest and refute the claim, otherwise it can not own something which is owned by another. Determining the ownership of the land is crucial in labeling the action of the armed claimants as intrusion. And the determination of ownership can be done by litigation or judicial proceeding in international court, and not by displaying one's superior military force.

Not terrorism, not invasion, not intrusion, what is it then? It is a claim, a historical claim.

For Malaysian government, the followers of the Sultan of Sulu are terrorists, invaders, and intruders. That is why a large-scale military operation is necessary. For those who know a bit better, these armed people are claimants of a land that they are going to defend against the dubious owner. They are, clearly, not against the civilians.

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