LAHAD DATU, Malaysia (AFP) — Malaysia yesterday said there is no more grace period for the followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who are holed up in Sabah and threatened to take “drastic action” against them after their tense standoff erupted in a shootout that killed 14 people.
Twelve followers of the little-known sultan of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo and two Malaysian security personnel were killed in Friday’s firefight, police have said, as the more than two-week-old siege in a remote corner of Malaysia turned deadly.
The dozens of Filipinos have been holed up on Borneo island, surrounded by a massive Malaysian police and military cordon, since landing by boat from their nearby Philippine islands to insist the area belongs to their Islamic leader.
“We want them to surrender immediately. If they don’t, they will face drastic action,” Hamza Taib, police chief of the Malaysian state of Sabah where the drama was taking place, told AFP.
He declined to provide details of what security forces had in store but his comments echoed growing Malaysian impatience with the situation
Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose government has been embarrassed by the security breach, said in the shootout’s aftermath that he told police and armed forces to take whatever action necessary to end the impasse.
“Now there is no grace period for the group to leave,” he was quoted as saying by Malaysian media, blaming the intruders for sparking the violence
Muslim-majority Malaysia had previously avoided tough talk, expressing hope the intruders would leave peacefully.
But even if they give up, they will face Malaysian prosecution, Hamza said, after he met with Malaysia’s home minister and other top security officials.
The interlopers, who have been variously estimated at between 100 to 300, sailed from their remote Philippine islands to press Kiram III’s claim to Sabah.
Kiram, 74, claims to be the heir to the Islamic Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, which once controlled parts of the southern Philippines and a portion of Borneo.
Hamza has said the shootout erupted when the armed Filipinos opened fire on police, who were attempting to tighten their security cordon.
The Sulu sultanate’s power faded about a century ago but it has continued to receive nominal payments from Malaysia for Sabah under a historical lease arrangement passed down from European colonial powers.
As this developed, the United States embassy in Manila said the Sabah row is an issue that should be resolved peacefully between the Philippines and Malaysia.
Tina Malone, the US embassy spokesperson, said through email: “The United States believes this issue should be resolved bilaterally between the Philippine and Malaysian governments in a peaceful manner consistent with international norms.”
But Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of Sultan Kiram III and the sultanate, said America has a “historical and moral obligation” to assist the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo in times of trouble, citing the 1915 Kiram-Carpenter Agreement. (With a report from Elena L. Aben)