'Invaders old and starving'

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KUALA LUMPUR: A bunch of old men with rusty rifles. This best describes the invaders of Felda Sahabat 17 in Kampung Tanduo, who have been holed up in the village near Lahad Datu since Feb 12.

Led by Crown Prince Agbimuddin Kiram, who is in his mid-60s, the 180-member group, which includes five women, is also starving because of a blockade by Malaysian security forces comprising the police, General Operations Force and the armed forces.

Agbimuddin is the brother of Jamalul Kiram, the Sultan of Sulu. Sources told The Malay Mail that more than half of the invaders were over 50-years-old and only armed with rifles -- explaining the government's stand that the invaders pose no immediate threat to national security.

Some are even in need of medical attention, according to sources and various news reports.

All's not looking well for Agbimuddin as the group is reported to be split because some members are unsure of the objective of their mission -- to lay its claim on Lahad Datu and re-open talks for the Philippines to take back Sabah.

"Many of the invaders have resorted to eating plants and roots as the authorities have blocked the area to prevent supplies from reaching them," said a source.

On Sunday, 10 of them attempted to surrender to the Malaysian authorities but were prevented from doing so by their leader. There have been unconfirmed reports of the splinter group exchanging gunfire with comrades still loyal to Agbimuddin.

Agbimuddin told the Philippines media this was a "do or die" mission.

"I believe we are right (and) this place belongs to us. We will stay," he told Radyo Inquirer 990AM yesterday.

Malaysia has maintained it wanted a peaceful end to the conflict so as not to hurt bilateral ties.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has reiterated that he wanted to prevent bloodshed.

Salip Asaral-Asmad, a first cousin of Jamalul Kiram, has been arrested. Abraham Idjirani, the sultan's official spokesman, described Salip as a long-time resident of Sabah and a Malaysian citizen.

Off Lahad Datu, a Philippines humanitarian ship is anchored to take the intruders home. Another ship, according to a report by The Philippine Daily Inquirer, is heading to Lahad Datu with a senior member of the Kiram royal family on board.

At press time, there has been no confirmation if Malaysia has acceded to a Philippines request to extend the deadline, which ends at 5pm today.

Innocent lives being put at risk, says diplomat

AS the Kampung Tanduo stand-off entered its 13th day, a Philippine diplomat has accused the leader of the armed group, Agbimuddin Kiram, of not only putting innocent lives at risk but also jeopardising the Mindanao peace process which Malaysia was an integral party in brokering.

"If there is a forced deportation, have they thought of what will happen to the civilians, some of whom joined up after being promised lands in Sabah?" the diplomat told the The Philippine Daily Inquirer on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat also said the group's claim of having peaceful objectives was "illogical and irrational" as they were escorted by armed men and intruded into a neighbouring country.

"If there is bloodshed, it would be on the Kiram's hands," the diplomat said, referring to Agbimuddin.

"With their quixotic and reckless move, they have placed at risk not only the Mindanao peace process but also the overall peace and security situation in Mindanao, which all Filipinos have worked and hoped for and Filipino-Muslims have long deserved."

Shots could have been firecrackers

"SHOTS" heard in Kampung Tanduo on Sunday night could have been firecrackers.

Sabah police chief DCP Datuk Hamza Taib said although what sounded like gunshots were heard in the vicinity, none of his men had discharged their weapons.

"As it was Chap Goh Meh, it could have been firecrackers," he told The Malay Mail when contacted.

On the request by the Philippines to extend the deadline which ends today, Hamza said no "real deadline" had been fixed but police will act when suitable.

He also said it is likely he will not allow a Philippine humanitarian ship carrying supplies for the intruders, to land.

Hamzah also confirmed there were women with the group.

He also said four people were arrested in Lahad Datu yesterday but their identities were being verified.

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