‘We’ll fight to the death’

Sulu Sultan’s brother Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram told a television interview that they are ready to defend themselves should Malaysians attack them.

(Agencies) – MANILA:The Sultanate of Sulu on Thursday said its followers would fight to the death if Malaysian security forces tried to evict them from the town of Lahad Datu in Sabah.

“They will not leave,” said Abraham Idjarani, the sultanate’s spokesman. “They will fight if the Malaysian army enters their camp with guns. But they will talk with them peacefully if it is their desire to end this issue without using force.”

The Manila Standard quoted Idjarani as saying that the sultan’s brother, Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, who leads the group of about 200 followers, had enough arms and men to hold their ground against the Malaysian forces.

Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, asserting the sultanate’s ownership of Sabah, has ordered his followers in Lahad Datu to stay put.

In a television interview, Agbimuddin said they are not waging war but are ready to defend themselves should the Malaysians attack them. He reiterated that what they are doing is not a crime.

“We are not bad, we are good people. We are law abiding citizens. We came here to live in our place. That’s not a crime,” he said in reaction to the warning from the Justice Department that they could be charged for inciting to war.

Agbimuddin and his group of about 200 people remained holed up at Lahad Datu since Feb. 12 on the orders of the Sultan.

The last deadline the Malaysian government gave to Agbimuddin to vacate the area expired on Wednesday.

Idjarani on Thursday accused President Benigno Aquino III and his spokesman Edwin Lacierda of inflaming the situation and blamed them for rejecting the sultanate’s conditions for talks.

“If they are decent and civilized men as they claim to be, they would not order us to leave Sabah before we could talk to the President,” he said. “They are the ones issuing angry words. They are the ones who are pushing for a fight.”

Earlier, Lacierda said the sultanate should not hold a gun to the President’s head while asking for negotiations, saying the President wanted the Lahad Datu group to come back first to ease the tension in Sabah.

Malacañang said its priority was to ensure the safety of some 800,000 Filipinos in Malaysia who might be affected by the armed incursion in Lahad Datu.

Warning shots

When push comes to shove, Idjarani said, Filipino Muslims in Sabah will come to the aid of their forces, who he said found a hero in Agbimuddin.

Agbimuddin said Malaysian security forces have not yet attacked them; the six Malaysian security men who came to them on Wednesday backed out after his men fired warning shots.

“We are on guard here every day, every night. The word ‘surrender’ is something not good for us. We are not outlaws. We are not bad elements,” he said.

He added President Aquino should negotiate with the Malaysian government on behalf of the Sultanate of Sulu to peacefully get back Sabah.

On Thursday, the sultan’s daughter, Princess Jacel Kiram, slammed President Aquino for branding as “foolhardy” their actions in Sabah.

“Why are you calling it foolhardy?” Is it foolhardy to defend the patrimony of your nation? Is it foolhardy to fight for what is right? Is it foolhardy to sacrifice the lives of 235 people for the sake of truth?” she said in a statement.

The sultan’s daughter also criticized Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II for protecting the interests of Malaysia instead of those of his own people.

She maintained that the sultan’s followers can enter Sabah at any time without any consent, and would not violate any laws for doing so.

“Is it a violation if you enter your own house, your own property? I don’t know what reason the government has in ordering us to leave Sabah,” she said.