DAVAO CITY, Philippines – If Malaysian officials want to end the stand-off in Lahad Datu, they should talk directly to Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, the leader of Kiram’s “royal army” that has occupied a fishing village in the east Malaysia state of Sabah since Feb. 9 said Thursday.
Agbimuddin Kiram, who calls himself the crown prince of the ancient Sultanate of Sulu, said only his elder brother, the sultan, could order them to leave Felda Sahabat 17 in Tungku, a village in the Tanduo district of Lahad Datu.
Speaking over a Sabah radio station, whose shortwave broadcast was monitored here, Agbimuddin said in a mixture of Melayu, Tausug and English that any negotiation “should be through the sultan.”
Agbimuddin’s group has been holed up in Tanduo, a sparsely populated fishing and farming area some 130 kilometers from the center of Lahad Datu, since Feb. 9 and has refused to leave even after Malaysian security forces surrounded them three days later.
The same line was used by Agbimuddin in a separate interview, The Star Malaysia reported.
“All negotiations have to go through my brother in Manila. The final line is my brother,” The Star quoted Agbimuddin as saying by phone.
In Thursday’s radio interview, Agbimuddin stressed the need for the Malaysian government to negotiate with his brother so the issue could be addressed.
The Kirams had said that their “homecoming” in Sabah was aimed at advancing their claim over state, which was part of the now defunct Sultanate of Sulu. The sultanate became an obscure monarchy during the American and British occupations of the Philippines and the Malay peninsula and North Borneo.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib returned to Lahad Datu on Thursday morning but he was mum on what the Malaysian government would do amid the defiance of Agbimuddin Kiram’s group.
Earlier, Malaysia’s Deputy Police Inspector-General Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar said Malaysian security forces might carry out the forced deportation procedure with 24 hours from Wednesday.
“We are set to end the stand-off,” he told the Malaysia Chronicle.
Agbimuddin said they were prepared for any eventuality as Malaysian security forces had made it clear that an attack was imminent.
“We don’t want bloodshed but if the situation forces us, we will fight,” he said.
Agbimuddin said he anticipated a drastic move from Malaysian forces and cited the dropping of leaflets by a Malaysian aircraft, urging his men to surrender, and the advice given by Malaysian authorities to Tanduo residents to pack up and leave as indications that something was afoot.
Meanwhile, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah continues to be mum over the Sabah stand-off and the revived issue of who owns the territory.
Historical accounts show that in 1658, the Sultan of Brunei ceded the northern and eastern portion of Borneo to the Sultan of Sulu following the latter’s help in quashing an uprising.
In 1761, the British East India Co. signed a lease with the Sultan of Sulu for the establishment of a trading post on North Borneo, which later came under British protectorate.
When Malaysia was granted independence by Britain in 1963, Sabah was handed over to the new federated state.
Jamalul Kiram maintains to this day that the annexation of Sabah was illegal because even the Malaysian government had expressed early on that it recognizes the sultanate’s ownership of the resource-rich island.
“Our demand is unchanged. Malaysia should recognize that Sabah is owned by the Sultan of Sulu,” Agbimuddin said.
He said that unless Jamalul Kiram ordered him to return to Sulu, “I will stay here.”
Agbimuddin said they may be running low on food supply and other provisions but backing out of Lahad Datu never entered their minds.
Acting Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao told the Inquirer the Kirams “have all the right to assert their claim.”
But he said President Aquino had wanted to avoid violence, which was why he sent a ship to fetch them from Lahad Datu.
“The President said (Agbimuddin and his followers) should better come home, and their claim over Sabah and their grievances against Malaysia should be talked about here,” Hataman said.
Meanwhile, Sultan Bantilan Esmail Kiram II said one of the followers of his younger brother Agbimuddin, fired a shot once on Wednesday when Malaysian security forces tried to sneak behind their lines.
“It was not aimed at anybody, just to drive them away,” Esmail told the Inquirer by phone. He said six members of the Malaysian security forces had tried to breach the line of the “royal army.”
He said there was not intention to harm members of the Malaysian security forces, which was why only one shot was fired.
Esmail said as of Thursday, the Malaysian police have not moved to forcibly deport his brother or any member of the “royal army” even as the deadline for them to leave Tanduo had lapsed.
“The Malaysian police chief spoke over the radio that he has no standing order to arrest anybody there, including members of the sultanate’s royal army,” he said.