The month-long crisis in Sabah, which has seen an incursion of rebel fighters from the Philippine island of Sulu into Malaysia’s northern-most state on the island of Borneo, is a stark reminder that Southeast Asia remains engulfed in unresolved territorial disputes and conflicts. Malaysia has been deeply involved in several of these conflicts as both a stakeholder and a mediator. The Sabah crisis now presents Malaysia with a thorny domestic security challenge that also has implications for its regional role.
As a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Malaysia has so far subscribed actively to the ASEAN principle of “pacific settlement of conflicts” espoused in the organization’s 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, of which Malaysia was a founding signatory. Malaysia played a major role, as both host and mediator, in the negotiations that recently brought the conflict in the southern Philippines to a peaceful resolution. On Oct. 15, 2012, after 15 years of negotiations and 27 rounds of talks in Kuala Lumpur, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a comprehensive peace accord establishing a political settlement to the Islamic insurgency in the Muslim-majority region of Mindanao.
Malaysia also recently agreed to help try to broker an end to the conflict involving Muslim insurgents in four provinces in the deep south of Thailand. In a state visit to Malaysia on Feb. 28, 2013, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra agreed to begin talks in Kuala Lumpur with the “Barisan Revolusi Nasional” (“National Revolutionary Front”), the main Muslim group involved in southern Thailand’s conflict.