Borneo stand-off: whither Sulu sultanate?
Malaysian security forces remain in a stand-off with some 100 men they say are armed insurgents from a rebel faction in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, who are accused of having taken over a village in a remote part of Sabah state on Borneo Feb. 14. But the Philippine government maintains the men are unarmed Filipino peasant migrants who had been promised land in the area. The Malaysian inhabitants of the village, named as Kampung Tanduao, have reportedly been forced to flee. Malaysian police forces say the invaders procialmed themselves the "royal army" of the Sultanate of Sulu, which has an historic claim to the area. By some accounts, the men have raised the Philippine flag in the village, which is now surrounded by Malaysian troops. The Philippine military has meanwhile deployed naval vessels and an aircraft to the coast of Malaysian Borneo.
The contemporary Malaysian state of Sabah had been a part of the Sulu Sultanate, together with several southern Philippine islands, from the 1400s until the territory was leased to the British North Borneo Company in 1878. Britain transferred Sabah to Malaysia in 1963, but the country still pays a token rent to the heirs of the Sulu Sultanate each year. The sultanate was a Spanish vassal state after 1851, and the remainder was incorporated into the Philippines upon independence, with Manila recognizing its local kingship over the Tausug people. (AFP, BBC News, SCMP, Feb. 15; Reuters, Feb. 14; Royal House of Sulu history page)