As Malaysia threatened to take “drastic action” against intruding followers of the sultan of Sulu on Saturday, President Benigno Aquino III sent a message to the group cornered in Sabah: “surrender now, without conditions.”
Twelve of the 235 men led by Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III, were killed in a clash with Malaysian police in the seaside village of Tanduao in Lahad Datu town, Sabah, on Friday morning.
Jamalul was unmoved. He appeared briefly with movie actor Robin Padilla, a Muslim convert, before dozens of journalists at his home in Taguig City.
“The only thing they know is surrender. Why should we surrender in our own home? They did nothing wrong in their own home,” Jamalul said in Filipino, referring to the President’s statement and to his brother in Tanduao.
Agbimuddin texted the sultan early Saturday saying he and his remaining followers were prepared to die.
“After we buried our nine brothers and a sister at sundown, everyone of the 224 left decided to die in Lahad Datu in pursuit of their dreams and aspiration,” Agbimuddin said, referring to the burial on Friday evening of his slain followers.
The message seemed to be correcting the Sabah police report that 12 of Agbimuddin’s followers were killed in the clash with Malaysian policemen.
In the hands of Allah
There were also reports that among the dead on the side of Agbimuddin were the elderly owner of the house that the Sulu group seized after entering the village on Feb. 9.
Abraham Idjirani, spokesperson for the Sulu sultanate, told journalists that the Kirams had decided to put the fate of Agbimuddin and his remaining followers in the hands of Allah.
He said Agbimuddin’s group went to Sabah to compel a peaceful resolution of the sultanate’s claim to Sabah.
“This is our long-held aspiration, that Malaysia understand that Sabah is owned by the sultanate of Sulu,” Idjirani said.
“The sultan is not after an increase in rental because that will benefit only the Kiram family,” Idjirani said. “[T]heir father said Sabah is not for sale. It’s for the patrimony of the Filipino people.”
The remnants of Agbimuddin’s group were cornered in a smaller area after the 30-minute gun battle that also cost the lives of two Malaysian policemen and injured three others, according to news reports from Malaysia.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Saturday told reporters that after talking to President Aquino on Friday night, he decided to give Agbimuddin’s group two choices: surrender or face the repercussions at the hands of Malaysian security forces.
Najib said the window for negotiations was closed, given the hostile stand taken by the group from Sulu.
“The Sulu [intruders] have to surrender or they will face the action of our security forces,” Najib said after paying his last respects to the two policemen killed by mortar fire during the clash with Agbimuddin’s group.
Malaysian Inspector General of Police Ismail Omar said Agbimuddin’s group must immediately lay down their arms and surrender or face “drastic action.”
“We have no other options but to take the necessary action to detain them,” Omar said.
Agbimuddin’s group was now “trapped” and faced no alternative but surrender, he said.
Malacañang did not say what understanding President Aquino and Najib reached, but said the President wanted Agbimuddin and his men to surrender to avoid further bloodshed.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda read Mr. Aquino’s statement addressed to Agbimuddin’s group at a hastily called news conference.
“To our citizens in Lahad Datu, from the very start our objective has been to avoid the loss of lives and the shedding of blood. However, you did not join us in this objective. Because of the path you have taken, what we have been trying to avoid has come to pass,” the President said.
“If you have grievances, the path you chose was wrong. The just, and indeed, the only correct thing for you to do is to surrender,” he said.
“To those who have influence and the capacity to reason with those in Lahad Datu, I ask you to convey this message: surrender now, without conditions,” he said.
Lacierda did not directly answer a question about the Philippine government pushing away blame if more lives were lost, but said: “The Philippine government has exerted all efforts for a peaceful resolution. We’ve done that from Day 1. We’ve said that we’ve sent emissaries. We have tried our best to deal with them. We have coordinated with Malaysian authorities. What should not have happened did happen yesterday. The best thing for them to do is surrender.”
Jamalul’s daughter, Princess Jacel Kiram, said the President’s call to surrender was “not acceptable.”
Jacel denied Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras’ statement that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima directly contacted the sultanate on Friday night.
She said it was someone claiming to represent De Lima who contacted the sultanate, demanding a “categorical statement” from the sultan ordering his followers to come home without conditions.
Jacel said government emissaries had contacted the family before and tried to impose terms on them and demanding that their followers withdraw from Sabah.
She said what her family wanted was for the government to intercede for them and arrange negotiations with the Malaysian government involving their proprietary claim to Sabah.
“We want negotiations, not dictation,” she said.
Rejecting Almendras’ claim that the government had done everything for a peaceful solution to the crisis, she said the standoff in Tanduao would continue until the sultanate and the Philippine and Malaysian governments agreed to sit down to talk about the Sabah claim.
Idjirani said Agbimuddin reported the capture of 10 members of his group by Malaysian police during the raid on Friday.
Idjirani said Agbimuddin admitted that he and his followers were caught off-guard.
“That will disprove [claims] that we fired the first shot, because we were caught by surprise,” Idjirani said, referring to the report by Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines Mohammad Zamri Mohammad Kassim on Friday that the Sulu group fired at Malaysian police, triggering a response that led to a gun battle.
Idjirani said the sultanate assumed that the captives, all men, were being maltreated in Malaysian police custody. The sultanate, he said, appealed to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to intercede for the captives.
Of the remaining 224 followers remaining in Agbimuddin’s group, seven are women, Idjirani said.
Earlier reports said the group was armed with M16 and M14 rifles, M16 carbines, M203 grenade launchers and .45 cal. 1911 pistols, but Idjirani said most in the group carried bladed weapons like kris and barong.
All was reportedly quiet in Lahad Datu on Friday, as police ordered a lockdown.
Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib said the authorities had the situation under control.
Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya said a Philippine humanitarian mission had arrived in Lahad Datu, although there were reports that the Malaysian authorities stopped the mission in Kota Kinabalu.
Communications Secretary Ramon Carandang said the government was talking to the Malaysian about maximum tolerance.
“We are still trying to find a way to prevent further bloodshed,” Carandang said. With reports from Nikko Dizon in Manila; Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao; and The Star/Asia News Network
Originally posted: 4:46 pm | Saturday, March 2nd, 2013