Friday, March 01, 2013

Firefight breaks out in Sabah; sultanate reports 10 dead, 4 wounded

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 5 - 12:39 p.m.) A firefight between followers of the Sulu sultanate and Malaysian security forces in Lahad Datu town in Sabah Friday morning has reportedly left 10 persons dead and four wounded.

The casualty count was given by Princess Jacel Kiram, daughter of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, in a briefing at their home in Maharlika Village, Taguig City past noon. Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of the sultanate, said among the casualties was a 28-year old mother of three and her husband.

However, Strategic Communication Secretary Ramon Carandang told a briefing in Malacanang that what happened was "there was a minor altercation, firing of warning shots but no casualties."

Idjirani claimed the Malaysian police snipers were continuing to fire at the sultan's followers.

The princess said her father's orders were for his followers in Sabah to "be restrained but always ready to defend themselves."

Addressing the Malaysian government, the princess asked: "Do we want more bloodshed or do we want this bloodshed to stop ... are we engaging in a dialogue or is this is an act of uinilateral violence against the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo?"

Shots could be heard in the background earlier in the day when radio station dzBB interviewed the Sulu sultan's brother and crown prince Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, who led close to 200 followers of the sultanate in occupying the village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu in mid-February.

"We do not confirm that there has been an ongoing firefight. From what we know from Malaysian authorities, what happened was not a firefight," Carandang said.

"Early this morning, the people of Kiram tried to leave the restricted area in Lahad Datu, perhaps to get supplies. They were met by Malaysian security forces and told to return to where they were, then a warning shot was heard," Carandang said. "After that, they were briefly detained then released."

But Idjirani brushed off the Palace denial, saying they had spoken personally to the crown prince some 20 minutes before the briefing. "Who are we to believe, Raja Muda or Malacanang?"

The princess said the "attack" by the Malasyian police was "unprovoked" because it followed "formal and informal talks" over the past two days for a peaceful settlement of the Sabah standoff. The talks, she said, included the terms for "disarmament."

Idjirani said they would appeal to the international community -- most likely the United Nations or Organization of Islamic Cooperation -- to investigate the incident.

He added that they have confirmed the identities of two of the casualties but refused to name them to prevent their relatives from "reacting violently."

He also denied reports that the crown prince had been captured by Malaysian authorities. "Raja Muda is well, he’s not wounded, he’s still leading the struggle."

In an earlier briefing, the sultan said of his brother:"Mahuhuli lang siya kung patay na siya (He will only be captured when he's dead)."

Kiram also warned that "they have awakened the giant" and that any fighting could escalate and spread “all the way to Kota Kinabalu” and "will also become our problem."

At the same time, Kiram said they remained open to negotiations.

He also accused the government of being insensitive to the sultanate's claim to Sabah.
"The government should study the issue very well," Kiram said. "They ask us to leave our own place? What if we ask them, the President, to leave, will they like that?"

The government has repeatedly asked Kiram to call on his followers to return from Sabah and President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the sultan investigated for possible violations of the Constitution and the Revised Penal Code.

Malacanang has also said it would talk to Kiram only if his followers leave Sabah and said the sultan alone would be responsible for anything untoward.

Kiram said he would speak only to Aquino and not to Palace emissaries.

The sultan said his order to his followers was to stay put even if they run out of ammunition "because you have to show to the world that wou're there not for fighting but to settle down in your homeland."

Abigail Kwok/ Bernard testa | | March 1, 2013 | Article Link

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