Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on Philippine Muslims who invaded Borneo Island last month to surrender unconditionally after security forces surrounded about 200 members of the armed clan.
“They should surrender as soon as possible,” Najib said in a televised briefing today during a visit to the state of Sabah, located in the northeast of Borneo. “This operation will continue until they put down their weapons.”
Malaysian police and soldiers killed 32 insurgents in a shootout today, Assistant Commissioner of Police Ramli Mohamed Yusoof said by phone from Sabah. Jamalul Kiram, who claims he’s the Sulu sultan, said his followers in Sabah won’t lay down their guns.
Clashes between Malaysian forces and Kiram’s group have killed 60 people over the past week as the two sides battle over ownership of Sabah, which the sultanate controlled more than 100 years ago. The fighting comes weeks before elections in both countries and the conclusion of Malaysia-brokered peace talks between President Benigno Aquino and Muslim separatists.
Voting may be postponed in areas under siege, state-run Bernama news agency reported, citing Election Commission Chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof. Eight Malaysian police officers and 52 of Kiram’s fighters have been killed since the invasion, according to Malaysian police.
Kiram will offer to swap six Malaysian prisoners, including police and military officials, for 10 captured followers if hostilities cease, Mutahmeen Pastor Saycon, an adviser, said in an interview.
Najib spoke after a conversation with Aquino about Kiram’s call for the United Nations to broker a cease-fire. The Malaysia leader declared a special security zone in the area holding Kiram’s followers and announced plans to create five permanent police and military battalions in Sabah.
Abraham Idjirani, spokesman for Jamalul Kiram, told reporters that 40 civilians and 10 of Kiram’s followers were killed, without elaborating. Agbimuddin Kiram, the sultan’s brother who is leading the fighters in Malaysia, will comply with a cease-fire, Idjirani said.
Jamalul Kiram said his group is loyal to the Philippines government.
“We’re not rebels,” he told reporters at his house in Taguig City in Manila after praying with a Muslim religious leader. “We’re not terrorists. I have not committed any crime.”
Philippine President Benigno Aquino, on a visit to nearby Mindanao island, today vowed to press charges against Jamalul Kiram, who is undergoing dialysis treatment for kidney failure.
The Sulu Sultanate, which dates back to about the 15th century, says it leased Sabah to the British North Borneo Company in 1878, an agreement that Malaysia views as a secession of the region. Sabah fell under British control after World War II and joined Malaysia in 1963, shortly after the sultanate ceded sovereignty to the Philippines.