TANJUNG LABIAN (LAHAD DATU): The Sulu armed group at Tanduo in Felda Sabahat 17 appears to ease up on their stand to remain in the village and is ready for further negotiations with Malaysian officials.
Group leader Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram said, however, the negotiations should be through his elder brother, self-proclaimed ruler Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
In his latest telephone interview with The Star, Azzimudie said: “All negotiations have to go through my brother in Manila. The final line is my brother.”
Asked if this meant he and his group will be returning to the Philippines soon, he said: “Not sure ... it is between the Sultanate of Sulu and the Government of Malaysia. They must negotiate with the Sultan.”
He denied his readiness to reopen negotiations meant he had softened his stance as implied by the Philippines Daily Inquirer, the country's popular broadsheet newspaper.
Jamalul Kiram had reportedly taken a tough stand by rejecting an appeal by President Benigno Aquino to leave Sabah.
“Our demands remain the same. In short, Sabah is owned by the Sultan of Sulu. I will stay here as long as my brother says I must,” added Azzimudie.
Azzimudie, whose son is believed to be among the 180 Sulu patriots holed up at the village, including six women and about 30 gunmen, said they were all fine despite the land and sea blockade by Malaysian security forces, and the Philippines navy standing by in the waters off the Tawi-Tawi islands.
Reports had emerged from Tanduo that the group was living off from whatever was left behind by villagers who fled their homes when the Sulu intruders landed on Feb 9.
The Malaysian security forces are holding their fire as no new orders have come from higher-ups for them to move in to disarm and deport the group.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib flew to Lahad Datu again to inspect the situation at Felda Sahabat 17, as the standoff drags into its third week.
Meanwhile, Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said that he had conveyed his government's request to Malaysia to extend the deadline for several more days for the group to leave.
He said that his request for another deadline, already extended three times with the last ending on Tuesday, was to give the Kirams a chance to fully understand Aquino's appeal to them.
He added that he did not specify a time period for the next extension.
Aquino had asked the Sultan to order the group to return or face the consequences under Philippine law.
Manila, hoping for a diplomatic and political solution to the standoff by engaging with the Kiram family, has dispatched Foreign Affairs undersecretary Jose Brillantes to Kuala Lumpur.
Brillantes, who arrived on Tuesday, is working with Ambassador Eduardo Malaya in coordinating a peaceful resolution to the impasse.