MANILA, Philippines - Security forces have yet to confirm reports that Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, has fled back to the Philippines as claimed by Malaysian authorities.
“We have no report to that effect,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said when asked to react to a Malaysian intelligence report that Agbimuddin has returned home.
Gazmin said the Philippines and Malaysia have an agreement to exchange information on security matters.
Agbimuddin, also known as Raja Muda or “crown prince,” is familiar with the area as a former local official, he added.
“Remember the Raja Muda has been there for quite some time and he’s been moving in and out of Malaysia so he knows the terrain, he has a lot of relatives” Gazmin said.
"It’s a low intensity conflict. It’s like a fish in the water. The water serves as the support system of the fish. That makes it hard to catch the fish,” he added.
Previous reports said Agbimuddin had served as an assistant district officer of Kudat, Sabah, raising questions as to whether he was a Malaysian citizen.
Earlier, Malaysian said Agbimuddin had managed to slip out of Malaysia and had abandoned his troops in Sabah.
The Sulu Sultanate denies this, dismissing the Malaysian government’s statements as propaganda. Some, however, believe the press releases of Malaysian authorities were meant to demoralize the sultanate followers.
Agbimuddin is the leader of about 200 Sulu sultanate forces who went to Sabah last month to assert their claim over the area.
Sabah is now being administered by Malaysia but the Philippines has a standing claim over the area.
Violence erupted after the Kiram group refused to leave the area despite the deadlines set by Malaysian authorities.
Meanwhile, Gazmin said the Philippines cannot turn over the 38 alleged sultanate followers who have returned home without a mutual agreement with Malaysia.
Gazmin said the Philippines has no extradition treaty with Malaysia.
“You cannot just send them there. (There) should be a mutually agreed arrangement,” he said.
Gazmin said he does not know of any formal request by Malaysia to surrender the 38 suspects who were intercepted in Sulu early this month.
Sulu sultanate spokesman Abraham Idjirani claims that only 22 of the 38 arrested persons were members of the royal sultanate army. – Alexis Romero