malaysia

Evidence shows Sulu militant leader still in Sabah, say cops

File photo of soldiers on guard in Sungai Nyamuk, a village adjacent to Kampung Tanduo where troops stormed the camp of the armed Filipino group, in Lahad Datu. — Reuters picFile photo of soldiers on guard in Sungai Nyamuk, a village adjacent to Kampung Tanduo where troops stormed the camp of the armed Filipino group, in Lahad Datu. — Reuters picKUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — There is no sign Agbimuddin Kiram has fled Sabah, state police chief Datuk Hamza Taib said today, contradicting yesterday’s statement by the armed forces chief that the Filipino militant leader had returned to his home in the southern Philippines.

Hamza said the earlier report was only a forecast, adding that Agbimuddin was probably still holed up in Lahad Datu where the self-proclaimed Sulu sultanate crown prince had landed with some 200 followers last month to claim ownership of Sabah.

“But, assuming he is in southern Philippines, this clearly shows he is an irresponsible person for leaving his followers here to face the security forces,” Hamza said on television channel TV3’s “Malaysia Hari Ini” (MHI) programme, according to a report by national news agency Bernama.

Citing military intelligence reports, Armed Forces chief Gen Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin told The Star Online news portal yesterday that Agbimuddin had abandoned his men in Sabah and hotfooted it home alone to the republic’s Muslim-dominant south.

Agbimuddin is the brother of the self-proclaimed Sulu “Sultan” Jamalul Kiram III. 

On February 9, the “royal” Sulu army led by Agbimuddin, who is also the self-proclaimed “crown prince” of Sulu, landed in Sabah’s coastal Lahad Datu township to lay claim over the north Borneo territory.

Attempts to resolve the conflict peacefully failed despite intervention from the Philippine government, sparking the first round of clashes between Malaysian security forces and the Sulu gunmen on March 1.

According to Bernama, Hamza said the security forces were now focusing on flushing out gunmen hiding in Kampung Tanjung Batu after completing their sweep of Sungai Nyamuk and Kampung Tanduo along Sabah’s restive east coast.

“If today we can clean up Tanjung Batu, insya Allah, we can then say Kampung Tanduo, Kampung Sungai Nyamuk and Kampung Tanjung Batu are clear,” the Sabah police chief said.

He said security forces will still be placed at the three areas as a precautionary measure.

He also said his men had only shot dead 15 Filipino militants in clashes at Kampung Tanduo last March 1 and not 27 as reported by some newspapers today.

Malaysia launched Ops Daulat three weeks after the gunmen landed, kicking off the assault with an aerial strike of bombs and heavy artillery fire before dispatching its ground troops to make a clean sweep of the coastal villages in Lahad Datu where Agbimuddin and his men were hiding.

But the elusive Agbimuddin and his men slipped out of sight, and are believed to be receiving aid from local villagers in the area, some of whom have been detained for questioning.

His kinsmen in the Philippines have also claimed in the media that the rebel leader contacted them several times over the past week to inform them he was still safe and unharmed.

Last Thursday, the Kiram clan called for a ceasefire but refused to pull its army from Lahad Datu.

In response, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak rejected the request, telling the gunmen to surrender unconditionally instead or face death.

To date, 56 Sulu gunmen have been shot dead in separate skirmishes, while the Malaysian security forces have lost 10 men — eight policemen and two soldiers. A teenage boy, whose identity is unknown, was also shot dead on Day 6 of Ops Daulat.