Sultan's cousin arrested in Sabah

COTABATO, Philippines - Malaysian security forces arrested a cousin of the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu in Sabah, where the standoff between a group of Filipinos and Malaysian security forces continues, the sultan's spokesman said on Monday, February 25.

Sahid Asaral Aswad, first cousin of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, was arrested and detained in Tanduao, Lahud Datu, where the group has been holed up for almost 2 weeks.

Kiram's spokesman Abraham Idjirani however pointed out that Aswad was not part of the so-called "Royal Sulu Army" and is in fact a Malaysian citizen.

It was not clear why the sultan's cousin was arrested, but Idjirani believes he was targeted for belonging to Kiram's family.

“We are not certain what his violation is but it’s clear [that] the Malaysian government started their crackdown against supporters and relatives of Kiram,” Idjirani told Rappler.

He added that the sultan has instructed the group's leader, Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin, for the Filipinos "to remain calm."

The heirs of the sultan of Sulu led by Kiram's brother Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin and between 180 and 400 followers sailed to Sabah on February 12 to pursue their claim on the resource-rich state, saying they felt left out of the peace talks between the government and the MILF.

On Sunday, February 24, the Philippine government sent a ship to Sabah to repatriate part of the group.

After the government refused to discuss the claim for now, the sultan on Monday asked the US to protect them in Sabah under a 1915 agreement. - with reports from Jef Maitem & Carlos Santamaria/