The Philippines called on the remaining members of an armed Muslim clan that invaded a Malaysian town a fortnight ago to surrender following a shootout that left at least 14 people dead.
Twelve loyalists to Jamalul Kiram, who claims to be the sultan of Sulu, and two Malaysian commandoes were killed March 1 in Lahad Datu, Sabah police chief Hamza Taib said. About 100 members of his group, which says it has sovereignty over part of Malaysia, remain in the area, Taib said by phone.
Surrendering is the “just and only correct thing” for Kiram’s followers to do in Lahad Datu, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said yesterday in Manila, reading a statement from President Benigno Aquino. “If you have grievances, the path you chose is wrong,” he said.
The incident revived a decades-old sovereignty dispute over Malaysia’s Sabah state months after Prime Minister Najib Razak helped Aquino reach a peace deal with Muslim separatists. The Sulu sultanate says it leased Sabah to the British North Borneo Company in 1878, an agreement Malaysia views as a secession of territory.
About 180 people, including 30 with weapons, arrived in Lahad Datu around Feb. 12 to assert the Sulu sultanate’s claims to Sabah. Ten surrendered during the shootout and others fled by sea, Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
‘Exposed to Danger’
Taib said police imposed a curfew on the afternoon of March 1, and nobody had been arrested or escaped. Malaysia acted with restraint as Aquino urged the group to return to the Philippines, Najib said.
“The longer they stay, they will be exposed to danger in terms of what can happen to them,” Bernama news agency cited Najib as saying. “I guarantee we will not allow this matter to continue without security forces taking action.”
Aquino warned Jamalul Kiram on Feb. 26 that he will face charges if he fails to order followers to return home. The Philippines plans to pursue its territorial claim to Sabah later under international law, Ricky Carandang, a spokesman for Aquino, said in Manila.
Kiram plans to report the shootout with Malaysian authorities to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, his spokesman Abraham Idjirani said in an ABS-CBN News television interview.
Jamalul’s title of sultan is disputed by other members of the Kiram family who claim it themselves, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The Province of Sulu website lists Ismael Kiram as sultan.
Sabah fell under British control after World War II and joined Malaysia in 1963. It had a poverty rate of 19.7 percent in 2009, highest among Malaysia’s 13 states, according to government statistics.