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Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, Who Led Revolt in Malaysia, Dies at 75

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Sultan Jamalul Kiram III
Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, who bid to restore Sulu sovereignty over Malaysia’s Sabah state, has died at the age of 75. Photographer: Jay Directo/AFP via Getty Images

Oct. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, whose bid to restore Sulu sovereignty over Malaysia’s Sabah state in February led to clashes that killed at least 62 people, has died. He was 75.

Kiram, who suffered from kidney disease that required regular dialysis, died about 4 a.m. yesterday at the Philippine Heart Center where he’d been confined since Oct. 18, Abraham Idjirani, a clan spokesman, said in a telephone interview. He will be succeeded by brother Bantilan Esmail Kiram, Idjirani said.

Kiram clashed with Malaysian authorities when he sent another brother, Agbimuddin, and 200 armed followers to Sabah in February to occupy land and pursue the clan’s claim. Kiram’s death may let the Philippines and Malaysia resolve the Sabah issue, said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political analyst.

“This opens an opportunity for a positive turn in the peace process,” Heydarian, a political science lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University, said by telephone yesterday. “Now that Kiram is gone, the idea of legacy inflexibility is pushed to the sidelines.”

The sultans of Sulu once ruled over both Sabah and the Sulu islands in the southern Philippines. The 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 cession of sovereignty. The state fell under British control after World War II and joined Malaysia in 1963, shortly after Sulu ceded its sovereignty to the Philippines.

‘Continue the Fight’

Kiram, one of several descendants laying claim to the sultanate, issued a decree yesterday urging the clan and followers to “continue the fight and repossess Sabah for the Filipino people,” Idjirani said.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has accused Kiram and his followers with dragging the nation into a dispute that was hurting relations with Malaysia. That nation is brokering peace talks aimed at ending a four-decade Muslim insurgency that has killed as many as 200,000 people.

Nur Misuari, a fugitive wanted for last month’s Zamboanga rebellion that killed more than 200 people, said in March he was “very sympathetic” to Kiram.

“A new chapter is possible with the death of Kiram and Misuari sidelined,” Heydarian said. “There is a potential for some realignment; Aquino can reach out and try to repair relations.”

‘Flower Vases’

Kiram accused the government in a March 7 interview of treating him and his wife as “decorations” at the signing of a framework agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front last October. “My wife and I felt like we were treated like flower vases,” Kiram said.

The government offers its condolences to the Kiram family, Aquino spokeswoman Abigail Valte said yesterday on government radio. A review commissioned by Aquino on the Sabah claim is ongoing, she said.

Kiram, who referred to himself as the world’s poorest sultan, failed to finish law studies in college and pursued a career in dance instead. In 2007, he ran unsuccessfully for a senate seat under former President Gloria Arroyo’s political party. Jamalul’s last wish was to be buried in Maimbung, once the ancient capital of Sulu, Idjirani said.

Kiram’s adviser, Mutahmeen Pastor Saycon, said in March that Kiram was never after money. “All the sultan and his family want is for Malaysia to recognize him as the sultan of Sulu and North Borneo,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Joel Guinto in Manila at jguinto1@bloomberg.net; Clarissa Batino in Manila at cbatino@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stanley James at sjames8@bloomberg.net

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