KUALA LUMPUR, March 1 — The armed Filipino rebel group that invaded Lahad Datu has declared that it will “never surrender” and are willing to die in Sabah, Philippine media reported yesterday.
Another online news portal also reported yesterday that the rebels fired some shots into the air last Wednesday to warn off the Malaysian security forces.
“The word surrender is something not good for us. We are not outlaws. We are not bad elements... we are law-abiding citizens,” Filipino rebel group leader Agbimuddin Kiram was reported as saying by the Manila Times online news site yesterday. Agbimuddin, the brother of self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamallul Kiram III, said the group was prepared to fight to death if attacked by Malaysian authorities.
Deputy Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar was reported by national news agency Bernama last Tuesday as saying that the invasion would be resolved “as soon as possible” despite the expiry of last Sunday’s deadline for the gunmen to leave.
Agbimuddin was quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Wednesday as saying that the rebels preferred a peaceful solution to the ongoing standoff, but would fight violence with violence if forced to defend themselves.
Agbimuddin has insisted 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.
Jamallul has already told his “royal army” of about 180 to hold their ground despite instructions from Philippine President Benigno Aquino III last Tuesday to leave the village.
The Philippine daily also reported yesterday 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 armed group, suspected of being a faction of a Philippine Muslim rebel group, claims 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 has cut off their food supply.
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 last 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, shooting at random before robbing the local branch of Standard Chartered Bank.