Local Suluks: Don't bring your war to us
As security forces battle against the Sulu intruders in Kampung Tanduo, some 15km away - deep within the Malaysian defences - another group of Suluks are gripped by fear and anxiety over their fate.
They are villagers from Kampung Batu-Batu, a mixed community of Suluk and Bajau who earned their living from fishing and farming.
While fears have been raised about the loyalty of local Suluks as their distant cousins mount an incursion on Sabah, the Suluk community here says their loyalty lies with the land they have lived off for the last 40 years, long before the Felda settlers came in.
Felda Sahabat, which is part of a government resettlement programme of the rural poor in newly developed areas, was established in 1980.
The security forces based here appear to agree, even as members of the General Operations Forces whose camps are adjacent to Kampung Batu-Batu, appear oblivious to the villagers as they focus on their operations against the intruders.
"We have no relations to the Sulu sultan, we have lived here for a long time... we have no other desire than to make our lives here," said Monayara Aligarah, 61, when asked if the Suluks here would welcome a Sulu sultan.
She is among the pioneering members of the small Suluk community in Felda Sahabat.
Fleeing the conflict
Monayara, like many of her village folk of around 200 people in Kampung Batu-Batu, originated in Zamboanga City, Mindanao in southern Philippines.
As civil war raged between Filipino government forces with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the 1970s, Monayara ( left ), together with her future husband, Jadung Birong, who is of Bajau descent, fled with a group of around 10 others.
"We got onto boats that traded in vegetables and tubers heading to Sabah and landed in Semporna," she said.
There, she said they received IMM13 passes, a document for refugees, from the Malaysian authorities before the group split up and went their separate ways.
"We decided to go to Lahad Datu because unlike Semporna, other than fishing, there was land where we could do some agriculture," she said.
Monayara could not remember what year she fled Philippines but said she arrived in this patch of bare land in 1974.
"When we arrived, we gathered wood and palm leaves (daun nipah) to construct our houses. I later married and settled down here ever since," she said.
Monayara spoke disapproving about the Sulu intruders, saying: "I ran away from Zamboanga to escape the war, but now these people are trying to bring the war here.
"We don't want to go back, we have no land there (southern Philippines). Nor do we go over to their place (Sulu intruders) to claim their land as ours.
"We just hope our children will grow up to have identity cards (to become Malaysian citizens) so that eventually they can buy land," said the mother of five.
She added that all her children have grown up and were working for Felda, giving them a simple but comfortable life.
Her 60-year-old fisherman husband, Jadung ( photo above ), who is now a permanent resident, complained that since the incursion, he has not been able to go out to sea to fish due to a ban imposed by security forces for safety reasons.
The eldest in the village is Santana Mambi ( left ), who is of Suluk descent and is in her 80s but cannot remember her exact age. She is the widow of one of the founding fathers of Kampung Batu-Batu.
She recollected that when the village first began in 1974, it only consisted of five houses set up by some 20 people, all of whom were Filipino refugees of Suluk and Bajau descent.
Today, the village has more than 20 wooden houses and two shacks which serve as a simple grocery store and coffee shop.
The third generation of children, many of whom are of mixed Suluk and Bajau blood, frolic along the shores where several boats sit.
"Despite what is happening, the relationship between the Suluk and Bajau is as good as before.
"Our relationship with the Felda settlers is also fine, we continue to sell them the fish we caught, we have not faced any discrimination," said Jasman Imlan, 40, who is the village representative.
He added that at least for the community here, they have not been singled out for their ethnicity and life continues as usual. And they want to keep it that way.
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