Sultan's supporters fired first: Najib
MANILA (1st UPDATE) - At least 10 armed supporters of the Sultanate of Sulu who are claiming Sabah were killed in a clash with Malaysian security forces, the prime minister of Malaysia said Friday.
In a report by state news agency Bernama, Prime Minister Najib Razak said between 10 to 12 intruders were killed in the firefight.
Two Malaysian security officers were also killed, he added.
He did not confirm if the brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, was among those killed in the clash.
Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib, meanwhile, said 12 armed Filipinos who ventured out from their base in Lahad Datu were killed in the clash.
Najib said the Filipinos were the first to attack Malaysian security forces patrolling the area in Sabah state where the Filipinos were holed up.
"Armed intruders fired shots first at Malaysian security forces," Najib said.
The clash ocurred in Kampung Tanduo, about 30 kilometers from Lahad Datu in Sabah.
The firefight ended after the Sultan's followers retreated, he said.
Police and military troops have been given "free hand to take any necessary action," Najib added.
"It will be a police operation first before the Armed Forces join in," he said.
Malaysian security troops have also been reinforced in Lahad Datu.
Dozens of followers of the little-known sultan of Sulu had been facing off with Malaysian police over the past 2 weeks, after they sailed from their homes in the southern Philippines to stake a territorial claim in Malaysian Borneo.
The 74-year-old Jamalul Kiram III says he is the head of the Islamic Sultanate of Sulu, which once controlled parts of Borneo including the site of the stand-off, as well as southern Philippine islands.
The owner of the house where the leader of the gunmen stayed during the 17-day stand-off was also killed but the nationality was not known, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters, citing a report by Malaysia's ambassador.
“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.
Malaysia’s state news agency Bernama reported that the 2 police commandos had been killed in a mortar shell explosion as they patrolled around the village where the gunmen were holed up.
An official at the main hospital in the town of Lahad Datu near the site of the stand-off told AFP two police officers had been brought in with gunshot wounds but were in stable condition.
Hernandez said Manila had formally demanded a full account of the security operation that ended the stand-off.
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 insisted 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 $1,700.
Idjirani suggested last week that the men would stand down if the compensation were substantially raised. - with a report from Agence France-Presse