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Sabah wrangle erupts into shootout

Territorial dispute turns violent; at least 12 dead

Malaysian police take cover during the shootout (photo: AFP) Malaysian police take cover during the shootout (photo: AFP)
  • Joe Torres and Steve Finch, Manila
  • Philippines
  • March 1, 2013
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Ten supporters of the Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram and at least two Malaysian policemen were reportedly killed on Friday morning during a shootout in Sabah.

Local reports say the standoff is now over and the surviving supporters of the sultan have either fled or surrendered to Malaysian government forces. However these reports have been denied by Abraham Idjirani, secretary general of the sultanate, which is in the southwestern Philippines.

Idjirani confirmed that 10 of the sultan’s supporters were shot and killed by Malaysian security personnel, with a further four injured. The group responded by killing two police officers.

Tensions rose at 6am, he said, when Malaysian forces entered Tanduo village near the town of Lahad Datu where the sultan’s supporters were holed up. Locals reportedly awoke to gun shots.

“Blood has flowed,” Princess Jacel Kiram, daughter of the sultan, said from her house in Manila after Friday prayers.

The princess called on the Malaysian government to clarify whether it was ready to engage in dialogue or planned to pursue unilateral action against the group, about 30 of whom were armed.

Following a meeting with the Malaysian ambassador on Friday afternoon, Philippines Foreign Ministry Spokesman Raul Hernandez said that 10 of the sultan’s followers surrendered to authorities as the remainder – about 200 people – fled to the sea.

But Idjirani said the group was standing their ground on Friday afternoon, denying Philippines and Malaysian government claims that the standoff was over.

“The Sultan of Sulu is still opening the lines of communication and this has been the policy since day one,” he said.

Following an apparent breakthrough in negotiations late last night, Idjirani said that he and a member of the sultan’s family were due to meet the Malaysian ambassador at the embassy in Manila on Friday morning to discuss plans for disengagement.

But after speaking to the sultan’s brother and leader of the group, Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the meeting was cancelled at the last minute, Idjirani said. He has appealed for help for those injured.

Related reports

Government backs sultan's claim to own the state of Sabah 

Sultan's supporters remain defiant

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