MANILA, Philippines—The widow of the 34th sultan of Sulu offered herself Monday as an “emissary in the negotiation with all parties” involved in the Sabah standoff, but asserted her family’s right to stay in the disputed territory.
Dr. Merriam Kiram, wife of the late Sultan Mohamad Mahakuttah Kiram, called on the government to include her family in plans for peace and development in Mindanao, echoing Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s complaint about being left out in the government’s talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“I am offering my services to be an emissary in the negotiation with all parties concerned in as much as I have dealt with all of them in the past,” Merriam said in a press conference in Makati City on Monday, the first time she faced the public since the Sabah standoff started three weeks ago.
“I am confident that after I sit with them to clarify their concerns, they will all be willing to come to the negotiation table to settle all matters for the good of all concerned. A win-win solution can be definitely arrived at,” she said.
Merriam said she had lived in Malaysia for 25 years and negotiated with authorities there.
She said she was in talks with the Malaysian side before the Lahad Datu standoff began.
In talking to the Malaysians, she is pursuing her husband’s decree for her to “bring back all the assets of the sultan of Sulu,” Merriam said.
She did not give details of her discussions with the Malaysians, saying only that she told them “to please take care of my family. I don’t want any bloodshed.”
Merriam said her side of the family, among nine heirs to the sultanate, was not consulted about Jamalul’s actions, adding that she was still in Malaysia when news of the standoff broke.
Defending the Kiram group’s action, however, Merriam said the Lahad Datu group went to Sabah “just to stay there” and was not as heavily armed as reported.
She claimed only three of the group of 200-odd people from Sulu were armed.
“We are not in agreement with the way they did it,” said Merriam, who led 12 Sulu royals in a rare public outing on Monday, most of them in their royal garb.
Still, Merriam said her family was not condemning Jamalul’s actions because the “Lahad Datu escapade,” as she called it, only asserted the sultanate’s rights over what is rightfully theirs.
She said she had been in touch with the sultan’s side of the family since the standoff began but was not in a position to appeal to the sultan to call his followers home.
“We just go for peace. That is their place, they can stay there,” Merriam said.
“To tell you frankly, they didn’t even know the meaning of ‘standoff’… I just don’t know [it went] out of hand. I hope [you’ll accord] us some respect, too,” she said.
She said the Kirams felt “more relaxed and at peace in Sabah than in Sulu.”