Sabah standoff ends with bloodshed; 12 Filipinos, 2 Malaysians killed
The online news portal of TV5
(UPDATE 8 - 10:15 p.m.) Manila, Philippines - The 17-day standoff in Sabah between followers of Sultan Sulu Jamalul Kiram III, who are claiming the territory as part of their homeland, and Malaysian forces ended with bloodshed on Friday, March 1, killing 14 people - 12 Filipinos and two Malaysian police officers, according to a report by The Star, Friday night, quoting Sabah police commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib.
The report said that according to Hamza, the 30-minute encounter between Kiram III's followers and the Malaysia General Operations Force began at 9:59 a.m. on Friday after the latter moved to tighten the cordon around Sabah's Tanduo village in Lahad Datu town where the Filipinos, led by Kiram III's brother, Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, had been holed up since February 9.
"Our men stumbled upon several of the intruders who fired at them, forcing our police to return fire,'' The Star quoted Hamza as as saying.
A separate report by Malaysia state news agency, Bernama, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had confirmed the death of 10 to 12 Fillipinos and two members of the Malaysia security forces.
Three more Malaysian officers were injured, according to the report.
Bernama further quoted Najib as saying that it was Kiram III’s followers who had fired shots first at Malaysian authorities after the Filipinos advanced 1.5 kilometers from where they had camped earlier.
Agbimuddin to continue fight
On Friday morning, Kiram III's camp in Manila said 10 of their men were killed and four others were wounded in the encounter with Malaysian forces.
At least 100 Malaysian citizens of Filipino descent were also rounded up on Friday, according to Kiram III’s spokesman, Abraham Idjirani.
But Agbimuddin avoided capture in the shootout and remains in Sabah with his men to continue the fight, Idjirani added.
"This is just the beginning," Idjirani warned.
The Star quoted Najib as saying that he was "very sad over the incident because what we had wanted to prevent, which is bloodshed, had actually happened."
"Now there is no grace period for the group to leave," the prime minister said.
On Friday afternoon, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Raul Hernandez said at a press conference in Manila that "the standoff is now over."
But Hernandez said that based on the report of the Malaysian ambassador to the Philippines, only three were killed and one was injured in the firefight.
Malaysian ambassador to the Philippines Dato Mohd Zamri Mohd Kassim went to the DFA office in Manila at 2 p.m., Friday to brief Secretary Albert del Rosario on what happened in Sabah.
According to the ambassador, the Filipino armed group escaped Sabah and ran toward the sea while 10 of them surrendered to Malaysian authorities. He said there was no report on the whereabouts of Agbimuddin and his men.
“The Malaysian authority, particularly the Malaysian police are now pursuing the group,” Hernandez told reporters.
The DFA spokesperson said the Malaysian forces' 10 a.m. assault against the Filipinos in Sabah resulted in the death of two members of the Malaysian police and another individual who owned the house where Agbimuddin and his men reportedly stayed.
During the press conference Friday afternoon, Hernandez said he could not confirm allegations made by Kiram III's camp for the gunmen that Malaysian security forces had shot dead 10 members of Agbimuddin's group and wounded four others.
During his meeting with the Malaysian ambassador, Del Rosario handed the envoy a note vebale asking Malaysia to provide the Philippines "full access" to the Filipinos who surrendered for their medical treatment.
Also, Del Rosario asked Malaysia to grant clearance to the Philippine Navy ship, BRP Tarbanua, to enter the border so that the medical team onboard could attend to the wounded Filipinos and bring them back home to their families.
The DFA chief also asked for a full briefing on the operations conducted by Malaysian authorities in Lahad Datu.
PNoy goes back to Manila
Meanwhile, President Benigno Aquino III went back to Manila Friday afternoon from a campaign sortie in Pampanga to monitor the situation in Sabah.
”I have to rush back to Manila after this and I am hoping all the information had been completed on what happened (in Sabah)...” Aquino said before addressing the more than 2,000 crowd at the Heroes Hall along Lazatin Boulevard in San Fernando City.
Aquino's office expressed regret over the deaths.
"We deeply regret the loss of life," Aquino's spokesman Ricky Carandang said in a short statement sent to Agence France-Presse.
"Our priority since this began was to resolve this peacefully. We have maintained that this action of the Kirams was not the correct way to assert their claims,” said Carandang.
U.S. won't meddle in Sabah issue
In Leyte, United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. said that while the U.S. was mourning the loss of lives in Sabah, the country would not meddle in the issue.
"We leave that to Malaysia and the Philippines to work that out. We regret any loss of life but this is between two sovereign nations,’ Thomas, who was visiting the province for the annual “America in 3D” road show, told InterAksyon.com Friday.
“This is not something that the US will get involved in,” he added.
Thomas is optimistic that the two nations, which have helped each other broker a peaceful deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mindanao last year, will continue maintaining their good relationship despite what had happened in Sabah.
The Islamic Sultanate of Sulu leased northern Borneo, now Sabah, to Europeans in the 1870s.
While the sultanate's authority gradually faded as Western colonial powers exerted their influence over the region, it continued to receive lease payments for Sabah.
The former British colony became part of the federation of Malaysia when it was formed in 1963.
Kiram III and the other heirs of the sultan still receive nominal annual compensation from Malaysia in the equivalent of about $1,700.
Kiram III’s spokesman, Idjirani, suggested last week that their men would stand down if the compensation were substantially raised. - with reports from Bernard Testa, Dexter San Pedro, Joseh Holandes Ubalde, InterAksyon.com and Philippine News Agency