MANILA, Philippines: Unlike many other Muslim royalties basking in grand palaces and opulent lifestyles, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s kingdom sits in a rundown two-story house in a poor Islamic community in Manila, the only hint of power and glory the title attached to his name.
“I’m the poorest sultan in the world,” the ailing Kiram, 74, told The Associated Press in an interview in his residence in Maharlika village in the Philippine capital.
Although largely forgotten and dismissed as a vestige from a bygone era, Kiram’s sultanate, once based in the southern province of Sulu, has sparked the biggest security crisis in Malaysia and the Philippines in decades — early last month, he sent his younger brother with about 200 followers, dozens of them armed, by boat from southern Philippines to a village in Sabah state in neighboring Malaysia to claim the land the sultanate insists belongs to them.
A stunned Malaysia, which runs the frontier resource-rich region of timberlands and palm oil plantations as its second-largest federal state, poured in elite police and army troops and called in airstrikes to quell what it saw as an armed intrusion.
After weeks of sporadic clashes that killed 19 intruders and eight policemen, troops launched a full-scale assault Tuesday, codenamed “Operation Sovereign,” but failed to account for most of the Filipinos, who according to the Kiram family were unhurt.
Malaysian forces shot and possibly killed one of the men, who appear to be trying to escape the area, police said. Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said later Wednesday that security forces combing the area found 12 bodies. However, it was not clear if they died in Tuesday’s strike or in the previous weeks of clashes.