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Malaysian airstrikes end Sabah standoff

Sulu Sultan supporters attacked in morning assault

Joe Torres, Manila

March 5, 2013

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Malaysia launched airstrikes followed by a ground assault against supporters of the Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III in Sabah on Tuesday as it looked to end the near month-long standoff.

It remained unclear whether there had been further casualties with the death toll from the dispute at 27, including at least eight Malaysian policemen killed on Friday and Saturday.

Malaysian press reported that the sultan’s followers were defeated before midday with no casualties on the Malaysian side.

The sultan’s inner circle in Manila remained defiant after the assault, however, as question marks remained on what had happened to many of the group including the sultan’s younger brother, Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram. 

Abraham Idjirani, a spokesman for the Sultan, said all of the group had been accounted for.

Idjirani dismissed reports from Malaysia as “black propaganda," saying that the sultan’s men “are still there and are safe.”

He added that he received a call from Raja Muda Agbimuddin shortly before noon.

"He and his men were resting and they are still intact," he said, adding that they are "ready to defend themselves."

Nur Misuari, head of the Moro National Liberation Front, a ceasefire rebel group which still retains arms and men in areas within the Sulu Sultanate in western Mindanao, warned Malaysia on Tuesday that killing the followers of the sultan was “a declaration of war.”

“It is our sacred duty to protect our people,” he said.

Hours before Malaysian forces began the assault on Tuesday, the Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario met with Malaysian officials in Kuala Lumpur to discuss “peaceful” solutions to the standoff.

Meanwhile, militant minority groups picketed the Malaysian embassy in Manila to call for a stop to the military response. Many lambasted Philippines President Benigno Aquino over what has been perceived by some as pandering to Kuala Lumpur.

On Monday, Aquino gave the latest in a series of television addresses to appeal to the sultan’s followers to surrender.

His spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, said in a press conference on Tuesday that the Philippine government had already done everything possible to prevent bloodshed, but the sultan's followers "chose the path of violence." 

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