MANILA, Philippines – Malaysian security forces on Tuesday morning said they are close to ending the standoff between them and members of the royal army of the Sultanate of Sulu, which is claiming Sabah as their ancestral land.
A report from the Malaysian news website The Star Online said "green light has been given to the security forces to move in at a chosen time to disarm" the group from Sulu, led by crown prince Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram.
"It is only a question of right timing for us to act," the Star quoted Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib as saying.
The report also said a police helicopter has been dropping leaflets over the village to persuade the Sulu group to surrender peacefully.
Commissioner Hamza said authorities have so far arrested five men for investigations into possible links to the group.
A shooting reportedly occurred last Sunday in Tanduo village. However, Hamza could not confirm if the shooting was a result of a conflict among the followers.
The group, composed of some 180 followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, has been holed up in the town of Lahad Datu for two weeks already. Citing numerous historical accounts and rental receipts from the Malaysian government, the group said the Sultanate of Sulu is the rightful owner of the land.
The report also said that Malaysian troops have already secured the 500-meter perimeter of the village, "blocking off any possible land or sea escape."
It also cited reports of discontent among the Sultan's followers as they run out of food supplies.
This developed as Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday appealed to the sultanate to recall his followers.
A "humanitarian ship" is also at the sea boarder of the Phiilppines and Malaysia, waiting for a clearance from Malaysian authorities to fetch the followers, the Star report said.
The same report also quoted Tawi-Tawi Governor Sadikul Sahali as saying that there is a second ship carrying members of the Kiram family and several government officials.
Sahali said he is not aware who are on board the second ship. The report said it is believed that the Kiram family member is going to to persuade the crown prince to "settle the Sabah claim issue by other means."