KUALA LUMPUR, March 6 ? Rebel leader Agbimuddin Kiram and his band of militants have survived Malaysia’s aerial assault and “mop-up” operations, Sulu “princess” Jacel Kiram claimed this morning on national television in the Philippines.
The daughter of the elderly Jamalul Kiram, one of the nine claimants to the Sulu Sultanate, said her uncle was willing to release the four Malaysian hostages they claim to be holding captive, but wanted to do so in front of the international media and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Committee to prove they were unharmed
“Kiram: Raja Muda is still safe, willing to release captives but in front of Red Cross and int’l media to show they were safely released,” ABS-CBN News Channel said in a Twitter posting on its interview with Jacel.
After several skirmishes last weekend with the Malaysian police, the armed Filipino militants claimed they had captured four Malaysians ― one policeman, two military personnel and a government official.
Their claims have yet to be verified.
Malaysian security forces moved in on the armed rebels in the remote Kampung Tanduo in Sabah’s Lahad Datu yesterday, kicking off with a dawn airstrike by F18 and Hawk fighter jets on the village.
But almost immediately after, news reports in the Philippines said Agbimuddin and his men had merely stood by and watched the attacks and explosions from hidden locations about 1km away from where the bombs were dropped.
In a phone call to the Sulu Sultanate’s spokesman, Abraham Idjirani at about 9.30am, Agbimuddin said his men were not hit and were ready to fight on.
After the airstrike, ground troops moved in on the village, entering the “mopping up” stage of Ops Daulat by pounding on doors and scouring the perimeter to sniff out the intruders.
But they later admitted that none had been caught in the attack. News reports showed calm and silence at the Lahad Datu district hospital, which has been placed on high alert in anticipation of another armed confrontation.
Instead, news in the Philippine media claimed that Agbimuddin’s crew are receiving reinforcements with 10,000 Suluks sailing in small batches from their homes in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga in the Philippines to aid their brethren in Lahad Datu.
In its report yesterday, French news wire AFP said Malaysian security forces would be ridiculed for incompetence if it were shown that the severely outnumbered and outgunned group of 200 or so militants had slipped the dragnet. It further added that this would heighten fears of violence spreading.
Jacel, in her interview with ABS-CBN News Channel, appeared to confirm this as she slammed the Aquino administration for being subservient to Malaysia, adding that she was still hopeful of a peaceful end to the standoff.
The Sulu “princess” was also unhappy with the “terrorist” label that the administration reportedly applied on her uncle and his men, saying this showed the government was only trying to stifle any possible aid that may stream in from the international community.
“We are Filipinos. As the leader of this country, you must protect the interests of the people,” she said in her message to President Benigno Aquino III, according to ABS-CBN’s Twitter page.
“We know we are armed with the truth,” she said.
In the disquiet that settled after yesterday’s attacks, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar admitted during a press conference that his men were yet to find any dead militants.
Agbimuddin and his band of armed rebels had landed in the coastal village on February 9 without fanfare from Tawi-Tawi in southern Philippines, in an incursion that exposed the lax security on the Malaysian coastline.
The group, claiming to be followers of the Sulu Sultanate, insist that Sabah is theirs as it had been granted to the Kiram family by the Brunei Sultan in the 17th century.
By Clara Chooi
The Malaysian Insider
06 March 2013