IN NEGOTIATIONS: IGP says the 'Royal Sulu Army' denies any links to militants
KOTA KINABALU: A GROUP of more than 100 foreigners surrounded by security forces at a remote east coast village here had identified themselves as the Royal Sulu Army.
Most members of the group have camped in the village of about 50 houses, called "Tanduo", in Tanjung Labian, Tungku, Lahad Datu, since they arrived here in batches three days ago.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said yesterday the group denied any links to militant groups.
They are said to be from the Sulu Archipelago in the southern Philippines.
"They are demanding the Malaysian government not to deport Filipinos of Sulu origin.
"The foreigners are descendants of, or with links to, the Sulu sultanate."
He said negotiations were ongoing between Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib and a leader of the group, who has been identified as a direct descendant of the Sulu sultanate.
"We have asked them to leave immediately and they have given us the assurance that they will comply soon."
He said there was no tension and that the foreigners arrived on Malaysian shores in their traditional barter trade boats called tempel or jampiras.
"We will investigate how they passed through our borders," Ismail said, adding it was normal for people to travel back and forth from the Philippines because of family ties or friends.
Ismail said the group leader had also come to see a friend but since his friend was away, some of them stayed in the village surau.
He denied rumours that gunshots were fired and that the foreigners had made threats.
"There has been no tension and the negotiations are going fine."
He said the police and army, however, had surrounded the village and mounted roadblocks along the road leading to Felda Sahabat.
"The group has no firearms but we are not taking any chances."
Meanwhile, it is business as usual at Felda Sahabat in the Tungku area.
Despite the presence of more uniformed personnel at several locations, such as the Cenderwasih township at Felda Sahabat 7, shops, banks and restaurants are open as usual.
On Tuesday, news broke out that foreigners in army fatigue had landed in Felda Sahabat area following problems in the southern Philippines. The news raised public concern after rumours surfaced that shots were fired.
However, Felda residents did not appear concerned.
"I heard about it from others but so far there have been no disturbances.
"I know that a group from the Philippines came (to Sahabat 17)," said Ahad Apai, 52, from Sahabat 16, adding that he did not hear gunshots.
Another resident, Musa Man, who is in his 50s, said the safety of residents in Felda Sahabat was assured as police were patrolling the residential areas.
Police are also guarding the entrance to plantations.
Police manning a roadblock in Jalan Lahad Datu, Sabah, yesterday. Pic by Zunnur Al Shafiq