Palace denies claim of Sulu Sultan's clan on killing of Pinoys in Sabah standoff

(Updated 1:16 p.m.) Ten Filipinos holed up at a village in Sabah have been killed while four others were wounded when Malaysian authorities allegedly fired at them, the camp of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III claimed Friday noon. Malacañang, however, said that based on information reaching the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), there were neither casualties nor a gunfight in Sabah, belying the claim of Kiram's daughter, Princess Jacel Kiram. “Walang gunfight o firefight, warning shots were just fired. There were also no casualties,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said at an emergency briefing. Valte said the shots fired by the Malaysians were not intended to hurt the Filipinos. “Meron sa mga grupo sa Sabah na nagtangkang lumabas sa cordoned off security area [kaya nagkaroon ng] warning shots. Na-detain 'yung dalawa, tapos pinabalik na rin [sa cordoned off area,]” she said. At a separate press briefing in Taguig City, Jacel said, "We suffered 14 casualties — 10 dead and four wounded. Blood has flowed." Parts of the briefing were aired on radio dzBB. Jacel said the fighting happened even though in the last two days, the Kirams had been engaged in "formal and informal talks" for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. She called on the Malaysian government to clarify if it wants to engage in a dialogue or resort to other courses of action. Firing ended In an interview aired over GMA News TV's Balitanghali, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the shooting has ended and that there were no casualties. "[Ayon sa impormasyon na] binigay sa amin ng ambassador [ng Malaysia] na merong nangyaring firing earlier pero walang mga casualties at yung firing na yan ay huminto na, wala nang putukan," he said. However, he said the Malaysian ambassador did not inform him why and when the firing began. "We are hoping to get more details on this later," he said. "Importante sa atin na matiyak ang kaligtasan ng ating mga kababayan doon sa Lahad Datu kaya patuloy tayong umaapila kay Sultan Jamalul na hikayatin na ang kanyang mga

tauhan na kusang umuwi na sa kani-kanilang mga pamilya at tahanan sa Mindanao," he added. Hernandez also said that a Philippine Navy ship is still on standby in case some of Kiram's followers decide to return to the country. He said they will give them enough time to think about the appeal of President Benigno Aquino III for them to leave Malaysia. In the meantime, Hernandez said the government will maintain open communication lines with Malaysian authorities. "Si (DFA Secretary Albert) Del Rosario is in touch with the Malaysian foreign minister at we are also in touch here with the Malaysian embassy, with the Malaysian ambassador, tapos yung embahada natin sa Kuala Lumpur is in touch with Malaysian authorities so tuloy-tuloy yung ating pakikipag-ugnayan sa kanila," Hernandez explained. Raja Muda not captured Meanwhile, Kiram's spokesman Abraham Idjirani contested government reports that there were no casualties, saying their casualty count of 14 came from Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the sultan's brother and the leader of the group in Sabah. Idjirani also denied reports that Raja Muda had been wounded or captured. "He is well, he is not wounded," he said. He claimed that Malaysian security forces sneaked into the area where the Filipino group had been staying, "already penetrating their ground." Earlier, in an interview with radio dzBB at around 10 a.m. Friday, Raja Muda said they were shot at and had to "defend" themselves.

Asked what time the Malaysian forces allegedly moved in, Raja Muda Agbimuddin said, "oras na ito (at this time)." Reached for comment, the DFA's Hernandez said "we are still validating as of the moment" the report about the attack. The Malaysian Embassy through Raveendran Nair, First Secretary of Information and Public Diplomacy, also told GMA News Online, "At the moment, the embassy has no comment. The embassy will not issue a statement on the matter." The group in Sabah had adopted a defiant stance after being surrounded by Malaysian forces, and when the first deadline for them to leave peacefully lapsed midnight of Tuesday.

Composed of relatives and followers of the Sulu Sultan, the group arrived in Sabah on February 9 and have been in a standoff with Malaysian forces since then, after staking their claim on their supposed homeland.

Malaysian forces have blocked off their food and water supplies, but did not fire on them until Friday, while waiting for a peaceful resolution to the situation.

On Thursday, Malaysia's The Star online reported that the group of armed Filipinos coped with the blockade by living off the supplies in the houses abandoned by local villagers.

The news report said the Filipinos claimed they were "all fine" despite the land and sea blockade by Malaysian security forces. - with Kimberly Jane Tan and Patricia Denise Chiu/VVP/KBK/YA, GMA News

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