DAVAO CITY – The Malaysian police on Sunday released the identity of the Sulu “royal army” commander, who was captured in Semporna district on Saturday, amid speculations in Sabah he could be Agbimuddin Kiram.
Malaysian police deputy chief Khalid Abu Bakar told a Sabah-based radio station that the arrested commander was Amirbahar Hushin Kiram, 50.
Amirbahar was arrested with his wife, Gina Teves, 47, at a marshy area in Kampung Sri Melor Bugaya around 1:30 a.m. Saturday following a tip-off, Khalid said.
He said seized from the couple were various items such as mobile phones, a money transfer card, cash amounting to over RM3,000 and various documents.
But Khalid would still not name the two other suspects, who were earlier arrested, except for saying one of them was the son of a former Tanduo village chief, who has Filipino ancestry.
He said the arrested suspects would be charged with terrorism and rebellion, or abetting these two acts, before the courts.
Khalid also said the latest arrests had brought to 408 the number of people taken into police custody under Operasi Daulat and over 100 of them were being directly linked to the Feb. 9 Sabah intrusion by the “royal army.”
Since Ops Daulat was launched on March 5, Malaysian security officials said 63 suspected Sulu gunmen had already been killed while the Malaysian side suffered 10 deaths – eight of them policemen.
Out of the number of slain gunmen, Khalid said 38 bodies had been retrieved.
For more than a week now, the Sulu gunmen had not launched any attack against Malaysian security forces on Sabah and the recent skirmishes were prompted by Malaysian ground operation.
Khalid said the main reason was that the “Sulu terrorists” had become leaderless with the arrest of Amirbahar, the death of Commander Musa more than two weeks ago, and when Agbimuddin fled to the Philippines.
But Agbimuddin’s son-in-law, Danilo Datu Abdullah Virtudazo told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in Cagayan de Oro City that the Sulu “royal army” – or what remains of it – was in defensive stance in deference to a ceasefire declared by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III based on a recent letter of appeal from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“The sultanate respected the call for ceasefire but Malaysia did not,” Virtudazo, who is married to Agbimuddin’s fourth daughter, Dayang Mura Napsa, said.
For Malaysian Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the lack of aggressiveness on the side of Agbimuddin’s men might have been brought about by the fact that their number had been greatly reduced with the high death toll and arrests, their being leaderless, or because they had feared about not getting paid anymore.
“We received similar feedback from the Philippine government that the armed men were paid to carry out the attacks in Sabah,” Ahmad was quoted by state-run Radio 24 as saying on Saturday.
Malaysian Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said his agency was working closely with Philippine intelligence agencies, such as the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica), in gathering facts behind the Sabah intrusion.
As Malaysia continues to clamp down on the “royal army,” a descendant of the Sulu royal house – Prof. Rita Tuban of the state-run University of Southeastern Philippines in Davao City – urged Sulu royals to retry the diplomatic way of settling the Sabah claim.
Tuban traces her ancestry from Sultan Jamalul Kiram I (reigned 1823-1842) and is known among Tausugs as Princess Jamala-Rah II.
She said a meeting among Sulu royals should be facilitated by the government so that any peaceful solution agreed would be acceptable to all.
“I think it should be the government to call all the members of the sultanate, just to represent the houses, to unite them in whatever decision they will arrived at on the Sabah claim,” she said.
Prof. Julkipli Wadi of the University of the Philippines had also said during a forum on the Sabah issue, which was organized by Universiti Malaya, on Friday was quoted by state-run media Berita Nasional Malaysia as saying that Malaysia and the Philippines should find ways to immediately resolve the Sabah issue as it could create a larger problem, especially if a third party steps in.
Also speaking during the same forum, Romel Bagares, director of the Manila-based Center for International Law (CenterLaw), warned that the Sabah crisis will eventually have “adverse impacts on security…of the Asean region as a whole.”
“If it escalates, it will not be a Malaysia-Philippines issue anymore. It will cause power imbalance and instability in the region. This is something Asean does not want to happen,” Bagares was quoted as saying.
Prof. Mohamad Abu Bakar, head of the International and Strategic Studies at Universiti Malaya, said in settling the issues, Malaysia and the Philippines should also involve the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the heirs of the sultanate of Sulu.
Malacañang has made it clear that the Philippine government will bring the country’s Sabah claim before an international arbiter if evidence could support claims the disputed territory indeed belongs to the Philippines.
Malaysian historian Dr. Khoo Kay Kim said this was welcome development but said he was optimistic that “Malaysia would win the case, based on historical records and evidence which clearly showed that Sabah belonged to Malaysia.”
“All records are in our favor,” Bernama quoted him as saying.
But Malaysian historian Dr. Ranjit Singh, a professor emeritus at the Universiti Utara Malaysia, disagreed on the idea to involve the ICJ over the Sabah issue saying there was no need for Malaysia to argue its case before the international court.
“Apart from historical facts, the Sulu Sultanate and the Philippines had in fact lost their sovereignty rights of Sabah to Malaysia based on the principle of effectivity,” Bernama quoted him as saying.
He said the sultanate has not ruled over Sabah since 1878 until its demise. The Philippines has no basis to claim the territory either because it was never a Sabah administrator.
“If you don’t do anything to it, don’t administer it, don’t pass any law (in that area), you lost that title,” he said, citing the ICJ ruling that favored Singapore on the issue of ownership of Pulau Batu Puteh.
He said the ICJ decided in favor of Singapore even if Malaysia presented a title for the area “because (Malaysia) had never administered or was present physically on the island.” Allan Nawal, Germelina Lacorte and Bobby Lagsa