Malaysia threatened yesterday to take "drastic action" against intruding followers of a self-proclaimed Filipino sultan who have vowed to dig in following a shoot-out that killed 14 people.
Twelve followers of the little-known sultan of Sulu and two Malaysian security personnel were killed in Friday's firefight, police said, as the more than two-week-old siege in a remote corner of Malaysia turned deadly.
Dozens of Filipinos have been holed up on Borneo island, surrounded by a massive Malaysian police and military cordon, since landing by boat from their nearby Philippine islands to insist the area belongs to their Islamic leader.
"We want them to surrender immediately. If they don't, they will face drastic action," said Hamza Taib, police chief of the Malaysian state of Sabah where the drama was taking place.
He declined to provide details of what security forces had in store but his comments echoed growing Malaysian impatience with the situation.
In Manila, Philippine President Benigno Aquino urged the gunmen to surrender immediately. "To those who have influence and the capacity to reason with those in [the affected town of] Lahad Datu, I ask you to convey this message: surrender now, without conditions," he said.
The Filipinos, who are estimated to number between 100 and 300, sailed from their remote islands to press Jamalul Kiram III's claim to Sabah.
Kiram, 75, claims to be the heir to the Islamic sultanate of Sulu, which once controlled parts of the southern Philippines and a portion of Borneo.
In an immediate response to President Aquino's appeal, Kiram's spokesman Abraham Idjirani said the gunmen would remain in Sabah.
"We have spoken: it's honour over lives," he said, adding the Filipino deaths have "only strengthened our resolve to defend the rights of the Filipino people over Sabah."
Jacel Kiram, daughter of the self-proclaimed sultan, said: "The decision remains the same. They won't be coming back because honour is above life." Idjirani, a spokesman for the sultan, said he and the council of the sultanate still had to study Aquino's statement.
Idjirani said the sultan's brother was unharmed in Friday's clash. He said among those killed on the clan's side were a 33-year-old woman and her 18-year-old son.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose government has been embarrassed by the security breach, said in the shoot-out's aftermath that he told police and armed forces to take whatever action was necessary to end the impasse.
Muslim-majority Malaysia had previously avoided tough talk, expressing hope the intruders would leave peacefully.
But even if they give up, they will face Malaysian prosecution, Hamza said.
Additional reporting by Associated Press