12 Filipinos, 2 Malaysian cops killed in Sabah
MANILA — Twelve followers of a Filipino clan occupying a village in Sabah, Malaysia and two police commandos were killed in a 30-minute shootout on Friday, Malaysian authorities reported.
Sabah Police Chief Hamza Taib said three Malaysian policemen were also injured in the incident, which ensued when members of the Kiram clan from Sulu, Philippines opened fire. He said the standoff was ongoing, contrary to earlier pronouncements by Philippine authorities that it was over.
The followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III landed in the coastal village of Lahad Datu in Sabah state on February 9 to claim the territory as their own, citing ownership documents from the late 1800s.
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Hamza said the Malaysian authorities were tightening a security cordon around the village when Kiram’s followers opened fire.
“We don’t want to engage them but they fired at us. We have no option but to return fire,” Hamza told the Associated Press by telephone.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was quoted by The Star newspaper as saying he had given security forces the authority to take whatever action they thought necessary to end the standoff. He said he regretted the bloodshed.
“I am very sad over the incident because what we had wanted to prevent, which is bloodshed, had actually happened,” Najib said.
The village was occupied by a group led by Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of Sultan Jamalul. The group earlier ignored appeals from Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to leave immediately or face prosecution at home on charges of triggering an armed conflict.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, citing Malaysia’s ambassador to the Philippines, Mohamad Zamri Mohamad Kassim, said earlier Friday that 10 members of the clan surrendered to police following the shootout, while the rest fled and were being pursued by Malaysian authorities.
“The Malaysian authorities, particularly the Malaysian police, are now pursuing the group… The ambassador said that the standoff is now over,” said Hernandez.
But Hamza said no one had surrendered. He said clan members remained holed up in the village and that the security operation was ongoing.
“We will assess the situation again. We want them to surrender peacefully. If they still insist, we have no choice, but there is no time frame,” he said.
The Philippine Government reiterated its appeal to the group to give up its arms and return home.
“The continued defiance has to stop for the peaceful solution of this incident,” said Defense Ministry spokesman Peter Paul Galvez.
Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang said in an interview Friday night that the Philippine Government was saddened upon hearing reports that 12 Filipinos were killed in the incident.
“We condole with the families of those who were lost,” he said, adding: “There now exists a small window of opportunity to arrive at a peaceful conclusion to the situation in Lahad Datu; we are exerting every effort to seize that opportunity, and are hopeful that the Kiram family and their followers will seize it with us, so that further bloodshed may be avoided.”
He refused to give further details, but said the primary goal of the Philippine Government had been to resolve the situation without violence.
“That was why Aquino urged the followers of the Kiram family to lay down their arms and return home, so that their grievances can be addressed through sober, productive dialogue,” he added.
Carandang also said Friday that the Philippines requested that medics aboard a navy ship near the village be allowed onshore to treat any of the Filipinos who may have been wounded Friday and take them and the others back to the country. There was no immediate response to the request.
Earlier Friday, Agbimuddin Kiram told Philippine radio station dzBB in Manila that Malaysian police surrounding the village opened fire and that his group fought back. He said there were fatalities on the Filipino side, but there was no independent confirmation.
“They suddenly came in; we had to defend ourselves,” he said. Sounds of shots were heard in the background while he was being interviewed by phone.
On Tuesday, Aquino urged Sultan Jamalul to order his followers to return home and called their action a “foolhardy act” that was bound to fail.
The standoff elevated the Sabah territorial issue, which has been a thorn in Philippine-Malaysian relations for decades, to a Philippine national security concern. The crisis erupted at a crucial stage of peace negotiations — brokered by Malaysia — between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the southern Philippines.
Aquino has said the standoff may have been an attempt to undermine his government on the part of those opposing the peace deal, including politicians and warlords who fear being left out in any power sharing arrangements. (SUNNEX)
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