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MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 2 - 1:28 p.m.) The followers of the sultanate of Sulu in Sabah were unscathed by the massive assault launched by Malaysian security forces against them Tuesday, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and his daughter said Wednesday morning.
Princess Jacel Kiram said her uncle, Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, who led some 200 followers to Sabah early last month, told them in a phone call Tuesday night that “he is in a safe place.”
“Sabi nila (Malaysians) defeated na ang Royal Force, pero hindi naman pala, dahil nakausap ng alas-diyes kagabi, about 30 seconds, si Raja Muda at nasa ligtas na lugar siya (They said the Royal force has been defeated but it turns out this isn’t true because we talked to Raja Muda for about 30 seconds around 10 p.m. and he is in a safe place),” the princess said.
Recounting the conversation, the sultan said his brother told them, “Ok naman sila. Sabi niya sa akin kumakakin sila ng maganda pero ang mahirap daw ‘yung hinahabol sila … saan sila pupunta … hinulugan sila ng bomba. Tingnan mo, sa awa ng Diyos , ang bomba nila hindi pumutok sa kanila, pumutok sa security force ‘yung bomba ng Malaysia (They’re okay. He said they are now eating good food but the hard part was when they were being pursued … deciding where to go … bombs were dropped on them. But look, in God’s mercy, the bombs did not explode on them but on the Malaysian security forces)."
On Wednesday, there remained no word from Malaysian authorities about the casualties or the result of the operation to flush out Agbimuddin and his group.
After initially saying the assault had “totally defeated” Agbimuddin’s group, Malaysian security officials Tuesday acknowledged that “mopping up operations” were proceeding slowly because of the possibility the sultanate’s followers were still in the combat zone.
They also acknowledged the possibility the sultanate’s followers may have slipped through their security cordon.
On Wednesday, Malaysian media reports indicated this might have happened.
The independent news site Malaysiakini said a gunman was "believed" killed in a shootout with security forces in Tanduo Wednesday morning and that the area where mopping up operations are being conducted after Tuesday's assault had been widened.
"At 6.45am, our security forces was fired upon and they were forced to return fire. I understand that one enemy was shot ... we believe he was killed," Malaysian police chief Ismail Omar told a press conference in Lahad Datu.
However, Malaysiakini quoted Ismail as saying security forces have not retrieved the body for "safety reasons."
And while the police official reiterated that security forces who took part in Tuesday's suffered no casualties, he remained tight-lipped on casualties suffered by the sultanate's followers.
"During the operations, we detected enemy movements to certain areas and it is possible that the location (of operations) needs to be expanded from the original zone,” Malaysiakini also quoted Omar as saying.
Princess Jacel also took exception to the “terrorist” label Malaysia has attached to the sultanate’s followers in Sabah, surmising that this could be “strategy” to tarnish them and prevent them from seeking assistance from the international community to press their claim.