Defiant Sulu Sultan mocks calls to surrender

KOTA KINABALU: The only man with the power to stop more bloodshed in a remote village in Lahad Datu, Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III, has mocked the idea of surrender.

For him and his armed followers, who are occupying a seaside village called Kg Tanduo, about 160km from Lahad Datu town, averting a looming bloody showdown is dependent on Malaysia acknowledging Sabah as part of the Sulu sultanate and its handover to the Philippines.

It is unlikely that he will get his wish. If anything, it is a death warrant for the remaining 224 men dug in at Kg Tanduo and surrounded by heavily armed Malaysian security forces.

The sultan’s show of defiance came when speaking to a group of journalists in Manila on Saturday even as Malaysia security forces threatened “drastic action” against the group.

The ailing Jamalul was quoted as telling dozens of journalists present that the remaining Sulu force in the village would not bow to either Malaysia or to Philippines President Benigno Aquino’s order to surrender.

The Philippines media reported that Aquino had sent a message to the group cornered in Sabah that said: “surrender now, without conditions.”

Malaysian police have also told the group to surrender immediately and have closed the door on any concessions or talks.

The Philippines Inquirer, an Internet news portal, said the sultan was unmoved by the threat and vowed his men would fight for their right to stay in Sabah.

Twelve of the group led by Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of the sultan were killed in a clash with Malaysian police on Friday morning.

The Inquirer reported that the sultan in a brief appearance with a local personality told journalist: “The only thing they (the Philippines government) know is surrender.

“Why should we surrender in our own home? They did nothing wrong in their own home,” it quoted Jamalul as saying in Filipino in reference to Aquino’s statement and to his brother in Tanduo.

‘We will die in Lahad Datu’

It also reproduced a text message from Agbimuddin to his brother early yesterday which read: “After we buried our nine brothers and a sister at sundown, everyone of the 224 left decided to die in Lahad Datu in pursuit of their dreams and aspiration.”

Of the 224 followers remaining in Agbimuddin’s group and said to be armed with M16 and M14 rifles, M16 carbines, M203 grenade launchers and .45 cal. 1911 pistols and knives, seven are said to be women.

Abraham Idjirani, spokesperson for the Sulu sultanate, was quoted as telling journalists that the Kirams had decided to put the fate of Agbimuddin and his remaining followers in the hands of Allah and their only wish was to compel a peaceful resolution of the sultanate’s claim to Sabah.

“This is our long-held aspiration, that Malaysia understand that Sabah is owned by the sultanate of Sulu,” Idjirani said, denying claims that Jamalul was angling for an increase in the annual cession payments currently made by Malaysia.

“Their father said Sabah is not for sale. It’s for the patrimony of the Filipino people,” he said.

Agbimuddin’s group are cornered in a smaller area than they had commanded after Friday’s gun battle that also cost the lives of two Malaysian policemen and injured three others.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak told reporters yesterday after paying his last respects to the two policemen killed by mortar fire during the clash with Agbimuddin’s group that the remaining men could either surrender or face the consequences as all negotiations were off the table given the hostile stand taken by the group.

Inspector General of Police Ismail Omar reiterated the warning of “drastic action” if the men did not lay down their arms and surrender

“We have no other options but to take the necessary action to detain them,” Omar said.

Surrender, ‘not acceptable’

In Manila, the presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda read out Aquino’s statement addressed to Agbimuddin’s group at a hastily called news conference.

“To our citizens in Lahad Datu, from the very start our objective has been to avoid the loss of lives and the shedding of blood. However, you did not join us in this objective. Because of the path you have taken, what we have been trying to avoid has come to pass,” the President said.

“If you have grievances, the path you chose was wrong. The just, and indeed, the only correct thing for you to do is to surrender,” he said.

“To those who have influence and the capacity to reason with those in Lahad Datu, I ask you to convey this message: surrender now, without conditions,” he said.

“The Philippine government has exerted all efforts for a peaceful resolution. We’ve done that from Day 1. We’ve said that we’ve sent emissaries. We have tried our best to deal with them. We have coordinated with Malaysian authorities. What should not have happened did happen yesterday (Friday). The best thing for them to do is surrender.”

Jamalul’s daughter, Jacel Kiram, was also reported as saying Aquino’s call to surrender was “not acceptable.”