Sultan's supporters remain defiant
Armed group stays put as deadline expires
More than 200 supporters of the Sultan of Sulu holed up in northeastern Borneo have snubbed a deadline imposed by Malaysia to leave the contested area by midnight on Tuesday.
Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram and the leader of the group surrounded by Malaysian forces in Lahad Datu, told Manila’s dzBB radio in a live interview on Wednesday that his group was running out of food but remained ready should the situation turn violent.
“We are… poised to retaliate,” he said, adding that he had received text messages from sympathizers on Tuesday as Malaysia’s deadline neared.
On Tuesday, Philippines Foreign Ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez said Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario had asked Malaysia to extend its deadline by 48 hours.
Malaysia had already extended a deadline twice, from Wednesday to Friday and then again until midnight on Tuesday, as officials in Kuala Lumpur and Manila sought to find a diplomatic solution to a standoff which started when the group first landed in northeastern Sabah on February 9.
Kiram said that there had been no moves from Malaysian forces after the deadline expired as different members of the group – 30 of them armed with machine guns – took turns sleeping.
He dismissed suggestions made by Philippines President Benigno Aquino on Tuesday that the group was externally funded.
In a live address aired on Philippines television on Tuesday night, Aquino said the Sultan was under investigation for possible law violations as the government stepped up pressure on the group to withdraw from an area they claim was theirs before the colonial British occupied Malaya.
Kiram said the group was open to negotiations with Malaysian and Philippines authorities and called on Malaysia to respect the rights of the group.
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