IT all began on February 11, 2013, when Malaysians were rocked by news that broke late into the night about the eastern shores of Sabah being invaded by a group of armed men.
The group of more than 100 was quickly identified to be followers of self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III. They were led by Jamalul’s brother Agbimuddin Kiram.
In that incident, the Philippines government seemed to totally leave the fate of the royal Sulu army in the hands of the Malaysian security forces.
Hailing from Pulau Simunul of Tawi-Tawi in the southern Philippines, the group first entered Malaysian waters by boat on February 9 and gathered in stages at Felda Sahabat 17 in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu, as a means of ‘reclaiming’ part of Borneo as their ancestral land.
This forced some 80 locals to flee from 15 homes. Upon being discovered by fishermen, the Filipino rebels broke into smaller groups and entered several locations in the village, including Kampung Sungai Bakau.
On February 14, then prime minister Najib Razak said the Malaysian government negotiated with the group before ousting them from the area.
Then inspector-general of police Ismail Omar said negotiations with the group were in progress to find the best solution without bloodshed.,
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The tussle between Malaysia and the Philippines over Sabah has been long-standing. The Suluks wanted Sabah returned to them, claiming it was seized by the British from their government.
However, Malaysia had always rejected the Philippine’s territorial claim, arguing Sabah folk had exercised their right to self-determination when they voted to join the Malaysian federation in 1963.
The Sulu sultanate also lost their rights in the Madrid protocol of 1885 when their former colonial overlord, Spain, relinquished its claims to Sabah, giving all control to the British.
However, it was subsequently learnt the Malaysian Embassy in the Philippines were issuing cheques for RM5,300 to the legal counsel of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu in keeping with the terms of an 1887 agreement.
While Malaysia considered it as annual cession payment for the disputed state, the sultan’s descendants considered it “rent”.
The first shootout between Malaysian security forces and the small group of Filipino rebels broke out on March 1 when the rebels tried to break a police blockade in Kampung Tanduo.
Najib confirmed the incident had left two police commandos dead while Sabah police commissioner Hamza Taib, confirmed that 12 of Kiram’s followers were killed in the exchange.
In the early hours of March 3, 2013, a group of Filipino gunmen, believed to be less than 10, ambushed the police in a village in Semporna, Sabah.
The media reported six Malaysian police officers and seven assailants were killed. It was also reported that the corpses of four of the policemen were mutilated, with one beheaded.