Kiram clan wants death toll proven, insists only 10 soldiers dead
KUALA LUMPUR - The clan of Jamalul Kiram III, the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, believes only 10 of its men have fallen in Sabah and not 52 as claimed by Malaysian authorities, suggesting that Kuala Lumpur has overstated the number to trumpet its success in its counterattack on the Filipinos.
Family spokesman Abraham Idjirani said on Friday that the family wants Malaysia to permit foreign journalists, including from the Philippines, to enter the conflict zone in Lahad Datu, Sabah, to confirm the Sulu death toll, reported The Philippine Star.
"You must allow the foreign and local media into the conflict areas to verify their claims. Until that is done, everything is subject to debate," Mr Idjirani was quoted in the newspaper as saying.
Mr Idjirani, who was speaking on behalf of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, said information received from the sultan's brother Agbimuddin Kiram confirmed that only 10 of the "royal" Sulu army have been killed since Malaysia launched attacks last Friday.
In an ABN-CBS News broadcast on Friday, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Raul Hernandez said the government was still trying to verify the number of Filipino casualties in Sabah, adding they could only rely on information offered to them by the Malaysian authorities.
Agbimuddin, the self-proclaimed crown prince of the Sulu Sultanate, is leading the band of over 200 militants in the east Malaysian state of Sabah, where the group have holed up since Feb 9, said the Malaysia Insider, a Malaysia news web site.
The armed men faced their first clash with Malaysian security forces last Friday, after weeks of peaceful negotiations failed, and subsequent skirmishes over the weekend reportedly saw many Sulu gunmen felled, as well as eight Malaysian policemen.
Malaysia launched an all-out assault on Tuesday morning, including an aerial attack that saw bombs and heavy artillery fire rained down on the now-beleaguered Kampung Tanduo where the men were hiding.
As of Thursday, Malaysian authorities placed the Sulu death toll at 52, with 32 killed during ground skirmishes following Tuesday's aerial assault.
But Mr Idjirani said on Friday that the Sulu men only clashed once with the Malaysians - on last Friday - and only 10 lives were lost.
"We call it the March 1 Massacre," he was quoted in Philippine network ABN-CBS News as saying.
Quoting Agbimuddin, Mr Idjirani said that all 235 soldiers of the Sulu army have been accounted for, with 10 dead, 10 arrested and four injured.
Agbimuddin last contacted his family in the Philippines at 2.30pm on Friday, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, saying he and his men were still alive and on the run but were suffering from hunger.
The daily reported Agbimuddin as saying that his forces have regrouped and have successfully been evading the relentless assault by Malaysian security forces who are still advancing on them slowly in the rugged terrain.
"They are constantly moving, not by boat, not by any means of transportation but by themselves. They are on foot. They are suffering from hunger," Mr Idjirani was quoted as saying.
Agbimuddin's niece Jacel Kiram described the attacks by Malaysian security forces as "maximum violence", instead of the "maximum tolerance" requested by the Philippine government before Tuesday's assault.
But despite this, the Sulu "princess" said the Sultanate's order for a ceasefire still stands and the army in Sabah have been advised to stay on the defensive.
"The instruction for them is to be always on the defensive, just be ready for any assault or attack. Just defence, no attack," she reportedly said.
Malaysia rejected the Kiram family's ceasefire call on Thursday, demanding instead that the Sulu gunmen lay down arms and surrender unconditionally.