Three people — including two police officers — were killed yesterday, as Malaysian security forces ended a standoff with Filipino gunmen over a territorial dispute in Sabah, the Philippine government said.
Dozens of followers of the sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III, had been facing off with Malaysian police for the past two weeks, after they sailed from their homes in the southern Philippines to stake a territorial claim in Malaysian Borneo.
The 74-year-old Kiram says he is the head of the Islamic Sultanate of Sulu, which once controlled parts of Borneo, including the site of the standoff, as well as southern Philippine islands.
The owner of the house where the leader of the gunmen stayed during the 17-day standoff was also killed, but the nationality was not known, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters, citing a report by Malaysia’s ambassador.
A third Malaysian police officer was wounded after the gunmen opened fire on their van, he said.
“The Malaysian ambassador said that the rest of the Kiram group in Lahad Datu escaped and ran toward the sea,” he said, adding that 10 members of the group were arrested.
Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported that two police commandos had been killed in a mortar shell explosion as they patrolled around the village where the gunmen were holed up.
It was unclear if they were the two police officers mentioned by Hernandez.
An official at the main hospital in the town of Lahad Datu near the site of the standoff said two police officers had been brought in with gunshot wounds but were in stable condition.
Hernandez said he could not confirm allegations by a Manila spokesman for the gunmen that Malaysian security forces had shot dead 10 members of the group and wounded four others.
Hernandez said Manila had formally demanded a full account of the security operation that ended the standoff.
Kiram’s spokesman, Abraham Idjirani, claimed Malaysian snipers had killed 10 of the sultan’s men and wounded four other members of the group.
“I talked to [the group’s leader] by telephone just now and asked him how many of his men were martyred. He told me 10. I inquired about the wounded and he said four,” Idjirani told a news conference at Kiram’s Manila home.
Idjirani said Kiram’s men would continue to fight and would not leave Sabah.
The Islamic Sultanate of Sulu leased northern Borneo to Europeans in the 1870s.
While the sultanate’s authority gradually faded as Western colonial powers exerted their influence over the region, it continued to receive lease payments for Sabah.
The former British colony became part of the federation of Malaysia when it was formed in 1963.
Kiram and the other heirs of the sultan still receive nominal annual compensation from Malaysia in the equivalent of about US$1,700.
Idjirani suggested last week that the men would stand down if the compensation were substantially raised.