By Oliver Teves
The Associated Press
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president on Saturday, March 2 urged members of a Muslim royal clan from the southern Philippines who occupied a village in eastern Malaysia three weeks ago to surrender, one day after a shootout left 14 people dead.
About 200 clan members landed in the coastal village of Lahad Datu in Sabah state on Feb. 9 to claim the territory as their own, citing ownership documents from the late 1800s. After the Filipinos arrived in the village, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said they should leave immediately or would face prosecution at home on charges of triggering an armed conflict, but the appeals were ignored.
On Friday, Malaysian authorities trying to end the standoff clashed with clan members, leaving 12 Filipinos and two Malaysian police commandos dead, Sabah Police Chief Hamza Taib said. Malaysian authorities said two other commandos were wounded, while the clan said four Filipinos were injured.
In a message to the group on Saturday, Aquino said the clan members should “surrender now without conditions.” He said he had sought to avoid bloodshed from the beginning.
“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,” Aquino 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.”
Malaysia’s home minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, and national police chief, Ismail Omar, were in Sabah on Saturday to oversee security operations.
Ismail also urged the Filipinos to turn themselves in, saying, “We have no other options but to take the necessary action to detain them.” Malaysian officials declined to say when they might move in or to elaborate on their plans.
The Filipino group is led by a brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of the southern Philippine province of Sulu. Jacel Kiram, a daughter of the sultan, indicated that her uncle, Agbimuddin Kiram, who is still in Lahad Datu, would not surrender.
“The decision remains the same — they will not return here because honor is above life,” she told DZBB radio in Manila. “What is life without honor?”
Abraham Idjirani, a spokesman for the sultan, said he and the council of the sultanate still had to study Aquino’s statement.
Idjirani said the sultan’s brother was unharmed in Friday’s clash. He said among those killed on the clan’s side were a 33-year-old woman and her 18-year-old son.
The standoff elevated the Sabah territorial issue, which has been a thorn in Philippine-Malaysian relations for decades, to a Philippine national security concern. The crisis erupted at a crucial stage of peace negotiations — brokered by Malaysia — between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the southern Philippines.
Aquino has said the standoff may have been an attempt to undermine his government on the part of those opposing the peace deal, including politicians and warlords who fear being left out in any power sharing arrangements. (end)
Associated Press writers Sean Yoong and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.