Philippines' Aquino warns sultan in Malaysia standoff

Philippine President Benigno Aquino warned a sultan on Tuesday he would face the "full force of the law" unless he withdrew his gunmen from Malaysia, but the elderly ruler remained defiant.

Dozens of followers of the little-known Sultan of Sulu have been facing off with Malaysian security forces for two weeks, after they sailed from their remote southern Philippine island homes to stake a territorial claim.

With the incident causing increasing embarrassment to the Philippine government, Aquino made a nationally televised address on Tuesday to try to pressure the sultan into bringing his gunmen back from Malaysia's Sabah state.

"If you choose not to cooperate, the full force of the laws of the state will be used to achieve justice for all who have been put in harm's way," Aquino said.

"This is a situation that cannot persist. If you are truly the leader of your people, you should be one with us in ordering your followers to return home peacefully."

Aquino, flanked by his interior and justice secretaries, also warned the sultan that he may have broken laws, including one banning citizens from inciting war that carries a maximum prison term of 12 years.

But the 74-year-old sultan, Jamalul Kiram III, showed no signs of buckling, calling a press conference from his home in a poor Muslim enclave of Manila to insist the standoff would continue unless his demands were met.

"As far as we are concerned we have not committed (a) crime," Kiram said, adding his followers cornered in a fishing village in Sabah on Borneo island would not initiate any violence with the Malaysian security forces.

"But we are prepared to defend our lives and aspirations."

Kiram says he is the head of the Islamic Sultanate of Sulu, which once controlled parts of Borneo including the site of the stand-off, as well as southern Philippine islands.

The sultanate leased northern Borneo to Europeans in the 1870s. While the sultanate's authority gradually faded as Western colonial powers exerted their influence over the region, it continued to receive lease payments for Sabah.

The former British colony became part of the federation of Malaysia when it was formed in 1963.

Kiram and his family, as heirs to the sultanate, still receive nominal annual compensation from Malaysia -- the equivalent of about $1,700 -- and they want more money.

Kiram said on Tuesday the gunmen would only lay down their arms if the Philippines and Malaysia agreed to negotiate terms for joint development of Sabah.

Pressed on details, Kiram's adviser Abraham Idjirani told reporters the sultanate should receive as royalties 50 percent of proceeds from Sabah's economic growth -- potentially many millions of dollars.

But Kiram also said his followers wanted to remain in Sabah even if a financial deal was struck. "(They want to) peacefully settle in Sabah, which is our homeland," he said.

Aquino said the sultan had 180 followers in Sabah, up to 30 of whom were armed. But Kiram said he had 235 members of the "Royal Armed Forces of Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo" there.

Malaysian authorities have sought to ensure tensions do not escalate at the site of the standoff, surrounding the gunmen but keeping their distance.

However Aquino cautioned the sultan that he could not expect to test the Malaysian government's patience indefinitely without repercussions.

"The avenue of peaceful and open dialogue is still available to us... we have not yet reached the point of no return, but we are fast approaching that point," Aquino said.

  • Wednesday #sgroundup: Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia 1 hour 55 minutes ago
    Wednesday #sgroundup: Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Here are today’s top trending stories in case you missed them.

  • The Lotus breadvan: Flickr photo of the day 16 hours ago
    The Lotus breadvan: Flickr photo of the day

    The Lotus Europa was one of the stranger sports cars of the '70s, but still managed to corner like a sheepdog thanks to its low weight and fiberglass body. This example caught by Dave Lindsay is fairly typical of the nicer early '70s Type 62 Europas Lotus exported to the United States; by today's standards they're odd, underpowered and unreliable — which means they have a fervent fan base.

  • Inside MotoGP, elbow on asphalt at 210 mph 17 hours ago
    Inside MotoGP, elbow on asphalt at 210 mph

    In MotoGP, a most strange sport, compact, highly fit men, most of them Spanish, Italian, Japanese, or Australian, maneuver 350-lb., multimillion-dollar motorcycles around Formula One tracks at 220 mph while wearing computerized suits that inflate when they fall off at speed. It feels as though you’re watching Tron live, and the crashes are just as spectacular. Driving these things requires a lot of nerve, as well as generous levels of Euro-style machismo. The riders of MotoGP can’t walk down the street in Barcelona or Milan without being followed by screaming fans. They’re like some sort of unholy marriage between Daft Punk and Apollo astronauts. In the United States, they’re just guys walking down the street.

  • Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia
    Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Armed pirates boarded a Singapore-managed oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, kidnapping three Indonesian crew and stealing some of the vessel's shipment of diesel fuel, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday. The attack occurred early Tuesday off Malaysia's west coast, said Noel Choong, head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre. The diesel oil tanker was believed to be en route to Myanmar. "IMB is aware of the attack on the Singapore-managed ship in the Malacca Straits.

  • McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania
    McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania

    It may not be safe to enter a McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore on Mondays starting 28 April. To celebrate the iconic Japanese character Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, the fast food chain announced last Friday that it would be releasing a new collection of Hello Kitty toys in McDonald’s restaurants island wide next Monday.

  • First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy
    First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy

    He called the emergency 119 number which put him through to the fire service, which in turn forwarded him to the coastguard two minutes later. That was followed by about 20 other calls from children on board the ship to the emergency number, a fire service officer told Reuters.