Sulu gunmen agree to return home

Malaysia's policemen man their base near Lahad Datu on Borneo island

LAHAD DATU, Malaysia - A last ditch attempt by Malaysian police to persuade the Sulu group to leave Sabah appears to be paying off with the armed men indicating their willingness to return home.

However, Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib said police were rejecting more demands of the so-called Royal Sulu Sultanate Army reportedly headed by Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, a descendent of the Sultan of Sulu.

"They have agreed to go back but they want to meet certain personalities. We cannot accede to this,'' he said yesterday, declining to say who the armed men wanted to meet.

He said this after attending a briefing along with Bukit Aman Internal Security and Public Order director Datuk Seri Salleh Mat Rasid at the General Operations Force at the Felda Sahabat land scheme not far from where some 100 armed Filipinos have been holed up at the remote Kampung Tanduo.

It is believed that two representatives of the armed Sulu group met top police officials for about two hours during which they forwarded their latest demands.

Meanwhile, Hamza dismissed talk that some of the armed men had managed to slip past a tight security cordon mounted by Malaysian police and military personnel around the seaside village.

"We know where they are and they are surrounded,'' Hamza said, adding that police were continuing their preparations for the deportation of the group.

He said apart from seeking recognition as Royal Sultanate of Sulu Army, the other main demand of the group was that there would be no deportation of the Suluk community, which had been in Sabah for a long time, as a result of an ongoing Royal Commission of Inquiry on the state's illegal immigrant problem.

"We have told them this was the wrong platform and they will have to go back,'' Hamza added.

Asked about the growing number of Malaysians who have expressed irritation about the situation through various online social network sites, he said: "We have to look at this from various perspectives.

"We are dealing with human beings. They are not militants and they came because of certain demands. If they come here as militants such as the Abu Sayyaf group, our approach would have been different.

"Most of the people from Southern Philippines are also related to the people in Sabah,'' he said.

On Philippines media reports quoting Sultan Jamalul Kiram III as telling his brother, the Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, to stay put at Kampung Tanduo, Hamza said "that was his personal opinion".

He noted that while Jamalul Kiram was recognised by the Philippine government as Sultan of Sulu, the people of Sulu in southern Philippines had coronated Jamalul's kin, Ismail Kiram, as their Sultan.

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