Kiram reiterates truce offer to Malaysia
MANILA, Philippines - The self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III, whose call for a ceasefire in Sabah was rejected by Malaysia, reiterated his declaration on Thursday.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the armed group must lay down their arms and surrender unconditionally, after a month-old confrontation in Sabah.
The hostilities were sparked when an armed group numbering about 200 arrived from the nearby southern Philippines to press an old claim to the resource-rich region.
Malaysia's security forces said they had killed 52 Philippine militants from the sultan's forces, calling them 'militants'.
But the Sulu Sultan's spokesman offered a ceasefire again.
"The Malaysian government, in complete rejection of the call ... the mandate that prior to its recognition of this unilateral ceasefire made by the Sultanate of Sulu, must surrender, they say, the 'militants' to them. Therefore, in response to that, I would reiterate that the Sultanate of Sulu is now declaring unilaterally the cessation of hostilities," said Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of the Sulu sultanate.
The sultanate is a defunct political entity in the southern Philippines whose ruling clan is pressing ancient land claims on Sabah.
Idjirani said they would arrange for the release of hostages -- four Malaysians including a policeman, two military personnel, and a government official -- held by their supporters if Malaysia agreed to a ceasefire.
"We also would like to incorporate the announcement of the cessation of hostilities that the Sultanate of Sulu, under the leadership of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, is now willing to swap the prisoners of war," Idjirani said.
"The Royal Security Forces do not have the hostages, but the people uprising in Semporna do, so we will ask them. We will compel them to follow the mandate of the United Nations," he added.
Malaysian soldiers and police have been tracking the group down in the coastal area dominated by palm-oil plantations after many survived Tuesday's heavy assault.
The armed group is demanding recognition and an increased payment from Malaysia for their claim as the rightful owners of Sabah, part of Borneo island and which the sultanate leased to British colonialists in the 19th century.
Malaysia has refused the demands and Manila has repeatedly told the group to put down its weapons and come home.