LAHAD DATU, Sabah, Malaysia—Malaysian authorities said Wednesday Sulu “royal army” leader Agbimuddin Kiram remained in the “area of operation” here in Lahad Datu, practically confirming that the brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III was still alive.
“Malaysian security forces are highly confident he is still here because as a leader (he) must not run. He will not run and leave his people by themselves here. He must lead them,” Sabah State Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Hamza said those killed and captured in target areas in the week-long assault on followers of the Sultanate of Sulu were considered “terrorists.”
“I cannot positively say if they are foreigners. To me they are terrorists because they are within the target area,” Hamza said when asked about the identity of the teenager who was shot dead in a village in Felda Sahabat over the weekend.
Hamza said these people’s lack of documents prevented the authorities from establishing their identities and nationalities.
He said operations were continuing in Kampung Tanduo although security forces have already cleared the area of Agbimuddin’s men.
The clearing operations have expanded to Sungai Nyamuk, Kampung Tanjung Batu, and Sungai Bilis where security forces were to be sent to retrieve the bodies of the Sulu armed men for forensic post-mortem examination.
These villages are within the Felda Sahabat estate, the largest palm oil plantation in Malaysia covering more than 100,000 hectares.
Hamza said that the residents of Tanduo, however, could not yet return to their homes because the authorities still had to verify whether “they are Malaysians or foreigners and if the land they had occupied was private or whether it belonged to the government.”
“If they have no rights to that land, we may not allow them (to return),” Hamza said.
Agbimuddin Kiram, who carries the title of “rajah mudah” or crown prince, along with more than 200 members of the sultanate’s so-called “royal army”, arrived in the village of Tanduo a month ago to reclaim Sabah, surprising both Philippine and Malaysian authorities who had placed issue of the Philippine claim to Sabah on the backburner.
Malaysia has alternately called Agbimuddin and his men “terrorists,” “insurgents,” and “militants.”
Hamza also clarified that only two Filipinos, not three as earlier reported, were killed in an encounter with security forces in Sungai Nyamuk on Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, Hamza said, 56 followers of the Sultanate have been killed while 25 bodies have been retrieved.
Nine Malaysian security forces have been killed while nine others have been injured.
Ninety-six people are detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 of Malaysia and 156 others under other acts, he said.