In an article on the daily’s website, Inquirer.net, group leader Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram was quoted as insisting that he and his followers had no reason to leave Sabah as they have committed no crime in occupying Kampung Tanduo, a small coastal village in eastern Sabah.
Agbimuddin is the brother of Jamallul Kiram III, the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, who has already told his “royal army” of nearly 200 to hold their ground, despite instructions from Philippine President Benigno Aquino III yesterday to leave village.
“Yes. Talagang peaceful negotiation ang kailangan (a peaceful solution is needed)... so long as our rights will not be taken away fom us. Negotiation talaga ng gusto namin (is what we really want),” he reportedly told the daily’s radio station Inquirer 990AM earlier today, when asked if the group was open to negotiation.
But Agbimuddin stressed that there must not be betrayal, insisting that the Malaysian government must be sincere in the negotiation.
It was reported earlier today that Jamallul had rejected Aquino’s orders, despite the president’s warning that they may soon have to face the “full force of the laws” if they refused to leave Sabah peacefully.
“The choices and consequences are yours. If you choose not to co-operate, the full force of the laws of the state will be used to achieve justice for all who have been put in harm’s way,” Aquino had said yesterday.
Jamallul’s brother disagreed that the rebel group had violated any of Philippine’s laws in refusing to leave Sabah, insisting in the interview that they have not committed any crime.
“E papaano papa-arrest? Ano ang crime na na-commit namin? Sa aming paniwala, wala kaminng crime (how to arrest? What crime did we commit? We believe, we have no crime) committed against the Philippine government. We are just doing what we believe is right...” Agbimuddin was quoted as saying.
He also repeated an earlier pledge that his group of men would not leave Sabah until the issue is resolved, although the Malaysian police have reportedly cut off their food supply.
Should the Malaysian authorities use force against them, Agbimuddin said his men would have no choice but to retaliate in kind.
“There’s no other way except to defend ourselves,” he was quoted as saying on Inquirer.net.
Asked for his message to Sabahans, Agbimuddin said his men had not arrived in the east Malaysian state to die with local villagers but to live with them and to “love each other and enjoy the income of Sabah together.”
The leader also asked for sympathy from their fellow Filipinos, insisting that their actions were not merely for themselves but for their countrymen, and both Christians and Muslims alike.
In Aquino’s appeal to the Sulu group yesterday, the president had told its leader that they should settle their grouses peacefully, using diplomatic channels.
“The right thing to do now would be to order your followers to return home as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying by the Philippine Star as saying.
The Philippine daily reported Aquino telling Jamallul he was risking not only the lives of his men but also the lives of “hundreds of thousands” of other Filipinos working here.
The Philippine president was also reported to have reminded Jamallul that those Filipinos suffering the consequences of his actions were also Muslims, and told the rebel leader his grievances could be resolved through dialogue.
He warned Jamallul and his men they could face sanctions for breaching their country’s constitution and national policy.
He also reportedly told Jamallul and his men they would be investigated, along with possible collaborators, suggesting that the incident may have been an act to undermine the Philippine government.
The group, suspected of being a faction of a Philippine Muslim rebel group, claim to belong to the “royal army” of the Sulu sultanate and are believed to number about 180 people with 30 gunmen among its ranks according to news wire, The Associated Press.
They had intruded into Malaysia on February 9 and have reportedly held national security forces at bay amid an enforced blockade that had cut off their food supplies.
Dissent appears to be growing within the group with several followers of Agbimuddin, indicating a desire to return to the Philippines, Malaysia’s The Star Online reported on Monday.
The group had previously said they would not leave Sabah as they are “subjects of the sultanate of Sulu.”
The bizarre drama had threatened to stir tension between the Southeast Asian neighbours whose ties have been periodically frayed by security and migration problems caused by a porous sea border.
News wire Reuters had reported that Malaysia pays a token sum to the Sultanate of Sulu each year for the “rental” of Sabah — an arrangement that stretches back to British colonial times.
In 2000, a group of militants from the southern Philippines kidnapped 21 tourists from the Sabah diving resort of Sipadan.
In 1985, 11 people were killed when gunmen, believed to be from the southern Philippines, entered Lahad Datu in Sabah, shooting at random before robbing the local branch of Standard Chartered Bank.