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Kiram thumbs down pullout

Withdrawal talks with Roxas unauthorized Sulu Sultan Jamlul Kiram III on Wednesday ruled out a withdrawal of his supporters from Sabah, saying that he did not authorize his younger brother, Esmail, to negotiate a disengagement by his followers with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II. Roxas had said Esmail broached the possibility of a disengagement in their closed-door meeting in Camp Crame Monday. The sultan said he had authorized the meeting with Roxas, but did not put withdrawal on the table, saying that the brother leading the Sabah forces, Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, refuses to pull out. “We’re already in third base, why should I back out?” Kiram told reporters in his residence in Maharlika Village in Taguig City. The sultan also suspected that the government was using his younger brother Esmail to divide his family. Malaysia’s foreign minister on Wednesday said the authorities would not let the sultan’s followers in Lahad Datu, Sabah, meet with Philippine officials or family members who might seek to negotiate their safety. Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said that authorities could not guarantee the safety of any negotiators. A spokesman for the sultanate, Abraham Idjirani, said the sultan’s forces remained intact, and that the group led by General Haji Musa, one of the top leaders reportedly killed by the Malaysians, had regrouped. Idjirani denied the Malaysian reports of Musa’s death. “Raja Muda called us last night and said he has communicated with Haji Musa. They later met and regrouped their forces,” Idjirani said. Agbimuddin, younger brother of Sultan Kiram, sailed to Sabah on Feb. 12 to revive the sultanate’s long-standing claim over the resource-rich Sabah. The sultanate had said that only a handful of the 235-contingent are armed for personal security of the crown prince. Fighting resumed in Tanjung Batu, Lahad Datu on Tuesday, resulting in the death of a Malaysian soldier and two Sulu gunmen, the Malaysia’s Star Online reported. The New Straits Times reported Wednesday that the Malaysian police were confident that “terrorist leader” Agbimuddin Kiram was still alive and remained at Felda Sahabat. It quoted Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib as saying that the sultanate’s men had scattered around three villages in Lahad Datu. In Taguig City, a source close to the Kiram family said two speedboats carrying supplies such as food and ammunition have sailed from Tawi-Tawi and landed in Sabah, successfully evading a naval cordon. “These men transported much need supplies to the forces of Raja Muda. No naval blockade can stop these people because they know the area like the back of their hands,” the source said. Idjirani would not confirm the information, saying only that Agbimuddin and his men were “relatively safe.” Lahad Datu was the training area of the former Moro National Liberation Front before it signed a peace accord with the Philippine government. The town is said to have stockpiles of weapons previously provided by the Malaysian military that were kept in storage over the years. The Coast Guard on Wednesday said it arrested two members of the Royal Army of Sulu and confiscated their pistols onboard a motor boat near the Philippine-Malaysian border. The arrest came a few hours after Navy personnel arrested 18 other Royal Army members also near the border. Seventeen of 18 arrested were armed with M-14 and M-16 rifles and a shotgun. Idjirani again dismissed the Palace allegations of a political conspiracy to create a crisis in Sabah. “The NBI is already investigating this. They have even sent men to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi but they got nothing,” Idjirani said. If indeed the sultanate has been funded by powerful personalities to destabilize Sabah and sabotage the Malaysian-brokered peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the spokesman said, they would not have sent only 200 men to start a war in Sabah. “If there was a conspiracy, we could have sent thousands of men. What can these 200 men do to contest the military might of Malaysia? Malaysia has about 100,000 soldiers and policemen,” he said. He also said the sultan’s adviser, Pastor Saycon, had advised the sultan against sending men to Sabah last year, when the sultan had grown tired of President Aquino’s refusal to discuss the sultanate’s claim on Sabah. Saycon, who was summoned to answer questions about his alleged involvement, accused the Palace of fabricating a conspiracy theory to distract public attention from the killing of Filipinos in Sabah. Idjirani also denied that former Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari had helped fund the Sulu expedition and even sent men to reinforce Agbimuddin’s forces. “Nur Misuari is a historical constituent of the sultanate. He merely conveyed his concern to the royal army facing the entire armed forces of Malaysia because he believes our forces are no match to them,” he said. The NBI on Wednesday said it would summon former President Gloria Arroyo – who is under hospital arrest – to answer questions about the Sabah crisis, but denied this was part of a Palace witch-hunt. NBI Deputy Directory Reynaldo Esmeraldo said others to be questioned were former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, Jose Cojuangco Jr., lawyer Oliver Lozano, members of the Marcos family as well as the Kirams. Esmeralda said they were still in the process of gathering and collecting evidence. He denied charges of a witch-hunt. “This is an opportunity for them to explain their hand in the Sabah incident, whether they were involved or not,” he said. “Remember, this is a fact-finding investigation to determine the truth.” As fighting between the sultan’s followers and Malaysian forces continued, another group of 500 refugees from Sabah arrived in Bonga town in Tawi-Tawi. These include more than 150 children and infants and more than 130 women, the largest batch so far to arrive from Sabah. Roxas said the government has stepped up efforts to avert a humanitarian crisis in Tawi-Tawi. Roxas said that majority of the Sabah evacuees – about 1,500 in all so far -- were staying in Taganak Island and Bongao in Tawi-Tawi and Jolo in Sulu. With Macon Araneta, Joel Zurbano and Florante Solmerin  
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