MANILA -- President Benigno S. Aquino III on Tuesday ordered a group of armed Filipinos holed up in Malaysian Borneo to return home and said their leader could be criminally charged for inciting war.
The group, which is seeking to revive a historical claim to part of Borneo, arrived by boat Feb. 12 from the southern Philippines in the remote area of Lahad Datu in the northeastern Malaysian state of Sabah. The group is led by a religious leader who claims to be an heir to the sultanate of Sulu, which ruled the area for centuries.
"This incident involves approximately 180 people, 20 to 30 of whom are armed," Mr. Aquino said in a nationally televised address. "Having an armed group in Lahad Datu presents a challenge that the Malaysian authorities cannot ignore."
The Philippines on Monday sent a navy vessel to the area with medical and diplomatic personnel to pick up the group or escort them back to the Philippines, hoping to resolve a situation that has complicated its relations with Malaysia.
Mr. Aquino said his government had sent emissaries to the group's leader in Manila, identified as Prince Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, seeking to resolve the issue.
"These are your people, and it behooves you to recall them," Mr. Aquino said to the leader in his Tuesday statement. "It must be clear to you that this small group of people will not succeed in addressing your grievances, and that there is no way that force can achieve your aims."
The Philippines has been coordinating with the Malaysian government to resolve the issue peacefully, but police officials in the area where the standoff is taking place have suggested that they are prepared to use force if necessary.
"We don't care where they come from, including the sultanate of Sulu," Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib told reporters on Monday, according to the Malaysian state news agency Bernama. "They are foreigners who intruded our country and violated our laws and sovereignty."
"When the time comes, there will be no more negotiations," he added later.
Malaysian police and military forces have surrounded the group and restricted its access to food and water to try to force its members to return to the Philippines. The police have set a series of deadlines for the group to leave, but each has passed without incident or a departure.
Abraham Idjirani, one of the leaders of the group, said on Tuesday after Mr. Aquino's statement that the Filipinos in Sabah would remain in place until Malaysia agrees to address the claims of the Sulu sultanate.
"Whatever happens, the sultanate is ready to face the consequences," Mr. Idjirani, who is based in the Philippines, told reporters.
The group's claims are not clear. Those who arrived on Feb. 12 originally requested the right to stay in Sabah, saying the area was property of the Sulu sultanate. But leaders of the group in the Philippines have since indicated that they have broader goals related to reviving their historic claim to the area.
The Malaysian state of Sabah lies a few hours by speedboat from the restive southern Philippines, where several armed militant groups operate. Despite the unrest in the southern Philippines, there have been efforts in recent years to expand trade and tourism between the two areas.
Partially as a result of such efforts, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos -- according to government estimates -- live and work in Sabah. Thousands of others are involved in cross-border trade with the Malaysian area, which has been peaceful and more prosperous than the southern Philippines.
"The action of these people purporting to be your followers endangers more than just their own lives," Mr. Aquino said Tuesday in his statement to the group's leader. "They also put at risk our countrymen peacefully engaged in their livelihood in Sabah."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.