Philippine Muslims End Malaysia Standoff After Shootout

A Philippine Muslim group claiming sovereignty over part of Malaysia ended its occupation of the Borneo coastal town it invaded two weeks ago following a shootout that killed at least 14 people.

Ten loyalists to Jamalul Kiram, who claims to be sultan of Sulu, surrendered in Malaysia’s Lahad Datu today while others fled by sea, Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said. Two Malaysian commandos and 12 insurgents were killed, according to Sabah police chief Hamza Taib.

“The standoff is over,” Hernandez said in a televised briefing from Manila. “For those wounded as well as the others who might be arrested, we would like to have full access to them so we can extend consular assistance.”

The incident revived a decades-old sovereignty dispute over Malaysia’s Sabah state months after Prime Minister Najib Razak helped Philippines President Benigno Aquino reach a peace deal with a Muslim separatist group. The Sulu sultanate says it leased Sabah to the British North Borneo Company in 1878, an agreement Malaysia views as a cessation of territory.

About 180 people, including 30 with weapons, arrived in Lahad Datu in the middle of last month to assert the Sulu sultanate’s claims to Sabah. 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 quoted Najib as saying. “I guarantee we will not allow this matter to continue without security forces taking action.”

Fatal Firefight

There are still about 100 Sulu people in the area, Sabah police chief Taib said today by phone. “No one has been arrested or escaped from the place and we have imposed curfew since late afternoon,” he said.

Aquino had warned Jamalul Kiram on Feb. 26 that he will face charges if he fails to order his followers to return home. The Philippines plans to pursue its territorial claim to Sabah at a later time under international law, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang told reporters in Manila today.

Kiram plans to report the shootout with Malaysian authorities to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, his spokesman Abraham Idjirani said in a television interview with ABS-CBN News today.

Jamalul’s title of sultan is disputed by other members of the Kiram family, who claim it for themselves, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The Province of Sulu’s 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, the highest among Malaysia’s 13 states, according to government statistics.

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