BLOODY FRIDAY A truck at the village of Tanduao in Lahad Datu carries the bodies of two members of Malaysia’s police commando. The two were among the casualties in Friday’s clash between Malaysian forces and armed members of the sultanate of Sulu, who had camped out at Lahad Datu since Feb. 9 to press their claim to Sabah. MALAYSIA’S THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

MANILA, MARCH 4, 2013 (INQUIRER) By Dona Z. Pazzibugan - A standoff in Sabah erupted in violence on Friday morning, with 12 followers of the sultan of Sulu and two police officers killed as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak declared his patience had run out.

Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib told reporters that 12 members of the group, which was led by a brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, were killed in the clash that began at about 10 a.m. and lasted for 30 minutes.

A spokesperson for the sultan of Sulu, Abraham Idjirani, denounced the raid on Agbimuddin’s group as a “massacre.”

Idjirani said the standoff was not over and that Agbimuddin’s group was still there and fearing more attacks by the Malaysian forces.

“No, the standoff is not over, unless there’s a concrete understanding or agreement that can be reached by the three parties,” Idjirani said, referring to the sultanate of Sulu and the Philippine and Malaysian governments.

No one surrendered

Speaking to reporters, Hamza said no one had surrendered. He said Agbimuddin’s group remained holed up in the village and that the security operation was going on.

“We will assess the situation again. We want them to surrender peacefully. If they still insist, we have no choice, but there is no time frame,” he said.

Idjirani was speaking at the time when reports from Malaysia were saying 10 members of Agbimuddin’s group, including a woman, had been killed.

“The first shot was fired by the Malaysian commando forces. The fallen heroes . . . are 10,” Idjirani said.

He said the sultan had ordered that the casualties not be identified “so the situation will not escalate.”

The dead will be buried in Lahad Datu, he said.

Stay put in Sabah

“Our stand is the same. Rajah Mudah (Crown Prince) Agbimuddin Kiram will stay put in the area to discipline [our followers]. But if the Malaysians will attack, they will do the same,” Idjirani said.

He said that before the clash in Sabah, representatives of the sultan led by one of his brothers, Abdelnasser Kiram, were on their way to the Malaysian embassy for an “informal dialogue” with the Malaysian ambassador.

But reports of the clash in Tanduao came while the group was on the road, he said.

The sultan recalled the representatives “because the [shooting had] started,” Idjirani said.

“The sultan is still open (to talks) because our advocacy is still peace,” Idjirani said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) could not immediately confirm deaths on the side of the group led by Agbimuddin, a brother of the Sulu sultan, but said it had reports that 10 either surrendered or were arrested.

The Star newspaper of Malaysia reported that two police commandos were killed by mortar fire and four other policemen were injured in the raid on Tanduao village in Lahad Datu town where Agbimuddin’s group had been holed up since Feb. 9.

Prime Minister Najib confirmed that two policemen were killed but said only three were injured in the clash.

The Star quoted Najib as saying he had given security forces authority to take whatever action they thought necessary to end the standoff.

Najib said Agbimuddin’s group had ventured 1.5 kilometers from their holed up area and opened fire at the Malaysian security forces.

No more grace period

“I am very sad over the incident because what we had wanted to prevent, which is bloodshed, had actually happened,” he said.

“Now there is no grace period for the group to leave,” he added.

Earlier, Najib warned Agbimuddin’s group to leave before the authorities took action.

“Do not test our patience, our patience has reached the limit,” he said.

Agbimuddin’s group, variously reported as numbering 250, 235 and 180, with about 30 armed and styled as the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo,” had rebuffed efforts by the governments of both Malaysia and the Philippines to leave the village and return home to Sulu.

The sultan’s followers had insisted that Sabah belonged to the Sulu sultanate and they were only returning to their “homeland.”

The clash

Three extensions of a Feb. 22 deadline for them to leave had expired and the Philippine government had requested a fourth extension, but Agbimuddin had refused to lead his group out, saying he took orders only from his brother the sultan.

Hamza said the shootout was sparked when the sultan’s followers fired at security forces as they were tightening their cordon around Tanduao.

“The intruders fired at us, then we returned fire,” he said.

“As a result of the fire two of my men died, three were injured and . . . 12 intruders died,” he said.

“The operation is still going on,” he said, adding that police continued to surround the area.

Agbimuddin told radio station dzBB in Manila that Malaysian police surrounding Tanduao opened fire at midmorning and that his group fought back.

“They suddenly came in. We had to defend ourselves,” Agbimuddin said.

Gunfire was heard in the background while Agbimuddin was being interviewed by phone.

In a second interview with the radio station, Agbimuddin said he had received reports that some of his men were wounded but he was not ordering a retreat or sue for a truce.

He said he himself was trading shots with the Malaysian policemen and he would continue fighting.

A source who was located near the area of the fire fight told the INQUIRER that Agbimuddin’s group was caught off guard, but was able to return fire with rifles and mortars.

“They came crawling and they fired the first shots,” the source said.

The attack, the source said, was carried out not by ordinary police forces of Malaysia but by military commandos acting on information from a civilian agent of the Special Branch.

Special Branch officers were among the first negotiators to talk with Agbimuddin after the group’s arrival in Lahad Datu, the source said.

The source said Jamalul talked with Agbimuddin by phone in the afternoon and told him to hold his ground, but with the information that direct negotiations with Malaysia were under way.

At sunset, the source said, Agbimuddin buried his slain followers.

DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the department had received reports that the sultan’s followers had fled toward the sea.

No prisoners

Idjirani denied that any of the sultan’s followers surrendered to the Malaysians or were captured during the clash in Tanduao.

“There’s no truth to the report made by the Department of Foreign Affairs that Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram has been hurt. There’s no truth that 10 members of the Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo have surrendered or have been captured,” Idjirani said.

He denied the information from the DFA that the sultan’s followers fled to the sea.

“How can they escape by sea in broad daylight? It’s like telling [the police], ‘Go ahead, shoot us,’” he said. With reports from Arlyn dela Cruz, AP, AFP and The Star/Asia News Network First posted 1:15 pm | Friday, March 1st, 2013

Sabah reports conflicting; Aquino orders probe By Michael Lim Ubac Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:25 am | Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

What really happened?

[SOBERING NEWS Princess Jacel Kiram updates her father, Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III, on the bloodshed on Friday between Malaysian police and Kiram’s followers, who had refused to leave Sabah after their incursion on Feb. 9 to press their claim over what they call their homeland. GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE]

President Benigno Aquino III on Friday ordered an investigation to determine what really happened in Sabah because of conflicting reports from the Malaysian authorities and the followers of the sultan of Sulu.

As of press time Friday night, Mr. Aquino was still in a meeting in Malacañang with select members of his Cabinet—Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa—discussing what steps to take to avoid further bloodshed.

“The President’s instruction is to get more information and to verify further,” said one administration official who declined to be identified because he had no authority to speak to journalists.

The official said the “reports were conflicting.”

“The Kirams claimed 10 of their followers had been killed. We have received notice from Malaysia that 10 of Kiram’s people have surrendered, and [Agbimuddin] has fled the area. That has yet to be confirmed. Where is he now, we don’t know,” the official said.

Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib told a news conference yesterday afternoon that 12 members of Agbimuddin’s group were killed in the clash with policemen.

Two Malaysian policemen were killed and three or four were injured in the fighting, according to news reports from Malaysia.

Is it or isn’t it?

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the standoff was over, but Agbimuddin adamantly said no and that they are fighting on.

There were reports that Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III left his residence in Taguig City, but Palace sources said he had no appointment with the President.

The sultan could be headed to the Malaysian Embassy, the sources said.

Mr. Aquino earlier said that he would not talk to Jamalul unless the sultan recalled his followers who had been facing off with Malaysian security forces in Tanduao village in Lahad Datu town in Sabah.


Last night, when things became clearer, Malacañang issued a statement condoling with the families of the 12 followers of the sultan killed in Tanduao.

“Since the onset, our primary goal had been to resolve the situation without violence. That is why President Aquino urged the followers of the Kiram family to lay down their arms and return home, so that their grievances can be addressed through sober, productive dialogue,” Communications and Strategic Planning Secretary Ricky Carandang said in the statement.

“There now exists a small window of opportunity to arrive at a peaceful conclusion to the situation in Lahad Datu; we are exerting every effort to seize that opportunity, and are hopeful that the Kiram family and their followers will seize it with us, so that further bloodshed may be avoided,” Carandang said.

President Aquino heard about the police raid on Tanduao, where Agbimuddin’s group had been holed up since Feb. 9, while stumping in San Fernando City, Pampanga, for his administration’s senatorial candidates in May’s midterm elections.

He had just begun speaking when he received the information, and begged off to return to Malacañang to monitor the situation in Sabah.

How confusion began

Confusion about what was happening in Sabah began with deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte contradicting press reports of the police raid, saying no shots had been fired and there were no casualties.

[Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas. INQUIRER PHOTOS: Is Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas the new spokesperson of the Malaysian government? The titular head of the sultanate of Sulu raised this question, on Thursday, as he lashed out at Roxas for claiming that the Malaysian authorities would not enter into talks with the sultanate to end the standoff in Sabah. Sultan Jamalul Kiram III said he was offended by the statements made by certain officials of the Aquino administration who, he said, had refused to meet with his family to find a peaceful end to the standoff between Malaysian forces and his armed followers who had been occupying a village in Sabah since Feb. 9.]

Interior Secretary Roxas added to the confusion with his own report that Malaysian police fired warning shots and there were no reports of casualties.

Then Roxas came back saying there had been reports of two followers of the sultan killed in the clash and that the “situation had evolved rapidly.”

Going to court

The Kirams said they were pressing their claim to Sabah and that they wanted to raise it to the International Court (ICJ) of Justice and to the United Nations.

De Lima said she was studying the idea of bringing the claim to the ICJ.

“That’s one of the options we are studying,” she told reporters, referring to the government study of the Sabah claim.

“We will not only tackle the purely legal aspect [of the claim], we need to consider all the policies of the administration, including the foreign policy and diplomatic relations,” De Lima said. “This is complicated.” With reports from Jerome Aning and Jeanette Andrade

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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