‘Self-proclaimed’ sultan gives Malaysia security nightmare

‘Self-proclaimed’ sultan gives Malaysia security nightmare

‘Self-proclaimed’ sultan gives Malaysia security nightmare

A group of Malaysian police commandos stand guard near the area where the stand-off with Filipino gunmen took place in Tanduo village. 27 people died in firefights this past week between the Malaysian police officers and Filipino gunmen. AP photo

Malaysia launched airstrikes and mortar attacks against nearly 200 Filipinos occupying a Borneo coastal village, Sabah, on March 5 to end a bizarre three-week siege that turned into a security nightmare for both Malaysia and the Philippines.

The assault follows firefights this past week that killed eight Malaysian police officers and 19 Filipino gunmen, some of whom were members of a Muslim clan that shocked Malaysia and the neighboring Philippines by slipping by boat past naval patrols last month and storming an obscure village on Borneo’s eastern Sabah state.

A self-proclaimed Philippine sultan said his gunmen would fight to the last man. “The crown prince, the royal security forces, and the many patriots who landed [in Sabah] voluntarily will fight to the last man protecting their ideals and aspirations,” their leader, Jamalul Kiram III, said in Manila.

‘Negotiations had gone nowhere’

Kiram sent his younger brother Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram and several dozen supporters, some armed, to the Malaysian state of Sabah on Feb. 12 to stake a claim on behalf of the heirs of a defunct sultanate which once controlled parts of Borneo, including Sabah. 

The sultanate’s power faded about a century ago but its heirs have continued to insist on ownership of resource-rich Sabah and still receive nominal Malaysian payments under a leasing deal. The self-proclaimed sultan said the gunmen’s leader was his crown prince and was leading the sultanate’s “royal army.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said he had no choice but to unleash the military to try to end an incursion that had already killed 27 people. A day after the Philippines called for restraint, Malaysia launched the assault with fighter jets bombing the standoff village of Tanduo in Sabah, followed by a ground assault by troops.

“The longer this invasion lasts, it is clear to the authorities that the invaders do not intend to leave Sabah,” Najib said, adding that negotiations with the estimated 100-300 intruders had gone nowhere. “The government must take action to safeguard the dignity and sovereignty of the country as required by the people.” 

Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman blamed the intruders for the assault. “We’ve done everything we could to prevent this, but in the end, Kiram’s people chose this path,” said spokesman Ricky Carandang.

Compiled from Agence France Presse and The Associated Press stories by the Daily News staff.