Leaving Sabah not an option – sultan

Perseus Echeminada - The Philippine Star

Followers to wage guerrilla war

MANILA, Philippines - Followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III are not withdrawing from Sabah, and he has instructed them to conduct guerrilla warfare against Malaysian forces.

Kiram said yesterday the withdrawal of his army led by his brother Agbimuddin from Sabah was not an option.

“They are already in their homeland so why come back?” Kiram told reporters at his residence in Taguig City.

Abraham Idjirani, spokesman for the sultanate, said the struggle in Sabah would continue.

He said the unilateral ceasefire order issued by the sultanate had been lifted and the sultan’s army had been ordered to conduct “hit and run” operations against the Malaysians.

Contrary to the Malaysian claim that Agbimuddin had fled, Kiram said his younger brother and his followers are still in Sabah eluding security forces.

Sources, however, claimed Agbimuddin and some of his men have slipped to Sulu province.

A security official who asked not to be named since he is not allowed to make any official statement, said Agbimuddin arrived in Sulu along with his escorts, with some of them from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The security official said Agbimuddin could have made their way through Lahad Datu on their way to Sandakan and initially slipped to either Sibutu or Sitangkai.

“It could be the others who were intercepted were probable a decoy or diversionary for their entry,” the source said, referring to the arrests made by the Philippine Navy (PN) the other week.

The Navy apprehended three of them and subsequently intercepted 35 other royal force members near Taganak Island on board of two motorboats with some firearms.

The intercepted followers of the sultanate had been placed under custodial investigation in the marine base in Bato-bato, Panglima Sugala.

Malaysian authorities also expressed the possibility that Agbimuddin might have already slipped out of Sabah but they continue their manhunt despite their earlier announcement that he might have slipped back to the Philippines.

“If we find him (Agbimuddin) here, we will arrest him,” Malaysia’s The Star Online quoted Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib as saying.

The Star Online also reported a suspected gunman from Agbimuddin’s group was killed in a gun battle with Malaysian security forces in Kampung Tanjung Batu.

“We believe they are still in the area and we have surrounded it,” Army field commander Lt. Gen. Datuk Seri Zulkiple Kassim said.

Another killed

The Malaysian state-run news agency Bernama also reported the clash with Malaysian security forces that left one suspected gunman from Agbimuddin’s group getting killed.

The Bernama also quoted Hamza as saying that three other gunmen had escaped and are now being pursued by security forces.

Hamza said mopping up operations are still ongoing in Kampung Tanduo and Tanjung Labian.

“The security forces are also conducting house-to-house searches in the operations area to trace enemy remnants,” Bernama quoted Hamza as saying.

Malaysian officials said the clashes in Sabah have so far left 62 persons dead. A total of 104 persons have been detained in connection with the crisis.

The Star Online earlier reported the sultanate’s forces had been “totally defeated.” It said Malaysian authorities are running after about 50 sultanate followers.

“Azzimudie (Agbimuddin) is also wanted in the Philippines, so if they catch him they will charge him there,” Hamza said.

Citing intelligence reports, Malaysian armed forces chief Zulkifeli Zin said Agbimuddin had managed to slip out of Malaysia and had abandoned his troops in Sabah.

Idjirani denied this and said Agbimuddin is still with the forces in Sabah.

Idjirani said he had a talk with Agbimuddin before midnight Saturday and he was informed that the group was intact.

Idjirani said the Royal Army forces, which now had 170 men, broke into three groups to avoid Malaysian spy planes hovering in the jungles surrounding Lahad Datu.

Agbimuddin told Idjirani that Malaysian security forces even launched massive air and sea bombardment in the area.

At one time, a laser guided air to ground missile hit but failed to explode when it landed right on the location of their group, he reportedly told Idjirani.

“If the bomb exploded it could have wiped out the group in the area,” Idjirani remarked.

The MNLF, for its part, dismissed Zulkifeli’s statement that Agbimuddin has already left Sabah, saying it was a “cheap propaganda.”

“He (Agbimuddin) is still there and we learned from our people in Sabah that Datu Raja Muda is not returning to Sulu if Malaysia continues to ignore peaceful efforts of the Sulu sultanate to settle the issue in Sabah,” said Haji Gapul Hajirul, chief of the MNLF political bureau.

Days before claiming that Agbimuddin had abandoned his men, Malaysian officials issued numerous press statements claiming that the group sustained numerous casualties.

Sympathizers of the Kirams believe the statements were just intended to demoralize the sultanate troops.

Leaving them to their fate

Kiram, for his part, confirmed the sultanate troops managed to slip through the military and police dragnet and are now safe somewhere in the jungles in Sabah.

He said he is now leaving the fate of these men to Allah with strong confidence that they will attain their objective in reclaiming their proprietary rights in the disputed territory.

“I am confident we will attain our objective,” he said.

The crackdown against the followers of Kiram has been blamed for the alleged human rights violations against Filipino migrants in Sabah. Malaysian officials, however, denied the Filipinos living in the disputed area are being maltreated.

Sabah is being administered by Malaysia but is being claimed by the Philippines.

Kiram clarified they are only asking recognition of their proprietary rights that he said, has been deprived from the Sultanate for centuries.

Kiram said international expression of support for their cause began pouring since the outbreak of hostilities began early this month.

Aside from the UN, representatives of several European and Asian countries relayed their support to the Sultanate’s claim, he said.

About 200 followers of the Sulu sultanate led by Agbimuddin went to Sabah last month to assert their claim to the area, which they consider their ancestral land.

Violence erupted after the sultan’s followers refused to leave the area despite the deadlines set by Malaysian government.

President Aquino himself has asked the Kiram group to shun violence even as he threatened them by enumerating the possible cases they would face once they return home.

The Kirams, however, said they would rather die than surrender and lose their honor.

Last week, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II met with Esmail II, another brother of the Sulu sultan, to discuss the sultanate’s “disengagement” from Sabah.

The “disengagement” was meant to end violence in the area, which hosts about 800,000 Filipinos.

Jamalul, however, disowned the meeting and insisted that he had not authorized his younger brother to negotiate with Roxas. –Alexis Romero, Roel Pareño

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