SINGAPORE — A standoff between Malaysian security forces and a Filipino Muslim group showed signs Monday of escalating into a serious political problem for each country’s government, as Kuala Lumpur sent hundreds more troops into a disputed region of Borneo.
For three weeks, Malaysian forces have been facing off against 180 followers of the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, from a remote island in the southwest Philippines. More than 20 people have been reported killed in clashes over the past few days, in the worst violence on Malaysian territory for decades.
The developments thrust a normally quiet corner of Southeast Asia into the spotlight as Malaysia braces for a closely fought general election, expected within weeks. On Monday, veteran Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim called for a meeting with Najib Razak’s coalition government to address the confrontation, while rejecting suggestions in media reports that he helped to incite it.
Meanwhile, in Manila, President Benigno Aquino III is trying to keep on track a peace process with Muslim rebels in the south of his country and has come under mounting domestic criticism for his unsympathetic stance toward the Sulu islanders’ claim.