Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Filipinos in evacuation centers in Felda Sahabat in Lahad Datu

Malaysia has allowed a Philippine consular team access to some 500 Filipinos in evacuation centers in Felda Sahabat in Lahad Datu.

The Filipinos have been affected by skirmishes between Malysian forces and followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who are pressing historical claim over Sabah.

This is the first time that Philippine officials were allowed access to distressed Filipinos since fighting erupted in Sabah as Kiram's men refused to stand down until Malaysia agrees to discuss their claim on Sabah.

Malaysian forces continued to hunt down the Filipinos they regard as intruders and vowed to push for an all-out offensive.

Scores have been arrested and at least two dozen of the Filipino fighters were reported killed in the attacks.

"Our embassy officials in Kuala Lumpur have confirmed that the augmentation team of the Department of Foreign Affairs was able to visit yesterday the Filipinos currently staying in evacuation centers in Felda Sahabat," Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told a press briefing.

Hernandez said the Philippine team found that the needs of Filipino evacuees are being "appropriately addressed."

"They were able to look at and meet the Filipinos there and they have confirmed they have adequate food and also that they are also being extended medical assistance," Hernandez said.

The evacuees came from the villages in Lahad Datu, where Kiram's forces had been holed up for more than two weeks until Malaysia's offensive sent them running to neighboring towns like Semporna.

Hernandez said the Filipinos, along with other Sabah residents, were asked to leave so they would not be further affected by the conflict.

On alleged human rights violations committed by Malaysian security forces against Filipinos in Sabah, Hernandez said Malaysia has yet to officially clarify such reports.

Malaysia's Defense Ministry quickly denied that such atrocities were committed on Filipino civilians, particularly those who are undocumented.

Despite this, Hernandez said the Philippine government will continue to verify the allegations which appeared in the media last weekend.

"We will still have to undertake the process of documentation, validation as regards to the people who have already left Lahad Datu and who are now in Mindanao. We will have to get more information and hopefully we will be able to confirm all these stories and reports," he said.

Efforts by Manila to end the violence in Sabah are continuing, discussing possible "disengagement" of Kiram's men in Sabah to end the month-long violence.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has already conveyed a message to the Malaysian side regarding the issue of disengagement, Hernandez said.

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