Putrajaya, Manila offered Sulu gunmen exit passes

KUALA LUMPUR, March 7 — Malaysian and Philippines officials had offered the Sulu militants in Sabah exit passes on the condition that they “hide” their arms, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The report quoted one Manila official as saying the “window of opportunity” for the group to walk away freely was open for “a week” when Governor Mujiv Hataman took over the talks with the Kiram clan which nearly ended with a breakthrough on February 17.

Soldiers get ready to storm the armed Filipino group in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu in this handout photo taken on March 5, 2013. — Reuters pic/Malaysia’s Ministry of Defence handoutSoldiers get ready to storm the armed Filipino group in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu in this handout photo taken on March 5, 2013. — Reuters pic/Malaysia’s Ministry of Defence handoutThe opportunity, however, ended when President Benigno Aquino III said the Malaysian government may deal with the Lahad Datu standoff any way it deem appropriate in his presidential address on February 26.

“Until the time the President (Aquino) spoke, there was this wonderful window where Malaysians agreed that the only thing they had to do was get rid of their weapons — either bury them, hide them — come home. No charges will be filed here in the Philippines; no charges will be filed in Malaysia,” Secretary Rene Almendras was quoted as saying.

The report further stated that Malaysian and Philippines officials had purportedly agreed to revive the Sulu Sultanate’s claim over Sabah in a bid to find a peaceful and non-embarrassing solution to the standoff which has left more than 30 dead.

“The initiative was to give a peaceful, non-embarrassing way to get out of the situation,” Almenderas was quoted as saying.

He noted that except for possession of firearms, Agbimuddin Kiram and close to 200 followers, who set off by speedboat in Tawi-Tawi and landed on the seaside village of Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu on February 9, had not committed any other crime at the time.

Agbimuddin is the brother of Jamalul Kiram III, the self-styled Sultan of Sulu. There are nine claimants to the throne.

According to the Inquirer, negotiations broke down after Jamalul insisted on a meeting with Malaysian officials.

Jamalul had ordered the incursion in Sabah on February 9, hoping to stake its claim over the northern Borneo territory.

Yesterday, the Kiram clan turned a cold shoulder to reports that the Philippine government wants to apologise for losing the letter it wrote in 2010, pointing out that it was too late as many Filipinos have already died during the violent clashes in Sabah.

Nearly a month after their surprise landing, the men have suffered casualties at the hands of Malaysia’s security forces, who are currently still undergoing ground operations to flush them out of the east Malaysian state.

The incident has place Malaysian and Philippine border security control under the spotlight, as well as ruffled feathers in the Aquino administration, which has been taking the brunt of attacks from Filipinos for allowing the gunfight on the Sulu militants.

Despite the attacks, Jamalul, however, said on ABS-CBN News Channel last night that “the door of the Sultan is still open for negotiations”.

According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who just returned from Malaysia yesterday, plans to pen an apology letter to Agbimuddin for failing to attend to the letter that the Sulu leader had written to the Aquino administration in 2010, seeking wisdom on his clan’s claim over Sabah.

In a statement published on its website yesterday, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) admitted that the letter from Agbimuddin, which is believed to have been sent to Aquino two days before he took office in 2010, has been found in its possession.

Aquino had previously said that the letter was likely “lost in the bureaucratic maze”, while his spokesman Edwin Lacierda said recently that the Malacañang, the president’s official residence, never received the correspondence from Agbimuddin.

Malaysian security forces and the Sulu gunmen are still locked in a nearly one-month standoff that has claimed the lives of over 20 individuals, including eight Malaysian police personnel.

A dawn aerial attack and subsequent ground sweep yesterday by Malaysian forces have yet to prove successful, however, and Agbimuddin and his band of rebels are still believed to be on the loose and on the move.

According to reports from their family members in Taguig City, the Philippines, the group has no plans to lay down arms and are ready to fight to the last, believing that their struggle would be for the betterment of their clan’s future.



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