CENDERAWASIH (Lahad Datu): A group of close to 100 Filipinos, who are in a standoff with Malaysian authorities after forcing out villagers from Kampung Tanduao, is claiming to be the royal armed forces of the Sulu Sultanate.
They also want to stay put in Sabah and not be deported to the Philippines.
The group, armed with an assortment of weapons, is confined within a tight security ring thrown around it by the Malaysian army, navy and police.
Its demands for recognition was made during negotiations over the past 48 hours with emissaries who had asked the group to surrender and leave the area peacefully.
It is understood that the emissaries have been given a time frame until noon today to end the standoff but the gunmen are saying they will only leave the village if their demands are met.
They had also purportedly raised the Philippines flag in the area.
Speculation had surfaced about the identity of the gunmen but Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar had announced their identity and demands at a press conference in Kota Kinabalu yesterday.
According to local villagers, one group of gunmen had arrived in three boats mounted with machine guns and landed in Silabukan while another landed in Sungei Merah close to Kampung Tanduao last week.
The villagers claimed that the gunmen went around demanding for food and water.
Police were then notified about the presence of the gunmen.
Some villagers had also claimed that one group of about 30 gunmen armed with M16 rifles had entered Kampung Tanduao in Felda Sahabat 20 scheme and converged at the home of a man known as Ahmad Bom or Mat Bomb.
The villagers, who declined to give their names for fear of repercussions, said that most of the gunmen were in military fatigues while others were in robes when they entered Kampung Tanduao.
According to them, Ahmad was arrested by the police in the early 1990s for allegedly attempting to throw a fish bomb at the Felda office here after failing to settle a land dispute, thus earning him the nickname.
He was also accused of being involved in fish bombing but was never charged.
The villagers claimed that Ahmad's son had gone to Bongoa in southern Philippines recently to seek help from the armed men to claim back his family's ancestral land within the Felda Sahabat scheme.