A Filipino clan leader who occupied a Malaysian village in the territory of Sabah with nearly 200 followers, has said the Malaysian police opened fired at them, reportedly killing at least 10 of its members.
Raja Muda Abimuddin Kiram, leader of the armed group, told Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan on Saturday that authorities fired at them in an apparent bid to end the three-week stand-off that threatens to complicate the relations between the two countries.
Our correspondent said she “could hear gunshots [in] the background” when she talked to Kiram on the phone.
Raul Hernandez, spokesman for the Philippines foreign ministry, confirmed the incident but did not elaborate on the reported Filipino fatalities.
Hernandez, however, said two Malaysian police officers were killed and another one wounded, after their vehicle were reportedly fired upon by the Kiram group.
“The ambassador said that the stand-off is now over,” Hernandez said refering to Datu Mohd Zamri, Malaysian ambassador to the Philippines, who met Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario.
In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said the armed Filipino clan should leave the area as soon as possible, according to the Bernama state news agency.
“We will not let this issue to prolong,” he said. “We will do what it takes to defend the sovereignty of our country.”
Members of a Muslim royal clan who call themselves the Royal Sulu Army from southern Philippines landed in a coastal village in Sabah on February 9 to claim the territory as their own, citing ownership documents from the late 1800s.
They ignored appeals from Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to leave immediately or face prosecution at home on charges of triggering armed conflict.
The group claimed that they made the decision to occupy the Sabah village in protest at the Philippine government’s continued indifference to their claim.
Mar Roxas, the Philippine interior secretary, said that according to the Philippine police attaché in Malaysia, the police in Sabah fired warning shots. Roxas had no reports of any casualties.
Aquino urged on Tuesday Kiram’s brother in the Philippine province of Sulu, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, to order his followers to return home and called their action a “foolhardy act” that was bound to fail.
The stand-off elevated the Sabah territorial issue, which has been a thorn in the Philippine-Malaysian relations for decades, to a Philippine national security concern.
The crisis erupted at a crucial stage of peace negotiations, arranged by Malaysia between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the southern Philippines.
Aquino has said that the standoff may have been an attempt to undermine his government on the part of those opposing the peace deal, including politicians and warlords who fear being left out in any power sharing arrangements.
The Malaysian government continues to pay the Kiram clan of Sulu a supposed annual rent of $1,500 for the use of more than 73,000sq km of land Sabah.
The Philippines this week sent a navy ship with social and medical workers off Lahad Datu while trying to persuade the Filipinos to return home.