BY CLARA CHOOI
ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
KUALA LUMPUR, March 10 Thousands of Filipinos are reportedly fleeing Sabah for the Philippines, gripped with fear over horror tales of torture and violence allegedly used by the Malaysian police on Suluks and suspected followers of the Kiram clan.
Refugees interviewed by The Philippine Daily Inquirer yesterday claimed they fled their homes in east Malaysia after witnessing aggressive acts used by authorities here during widespread operations to flush out the Sulu invaders earlier this week.
One refugee said Filipino men were dragged from their homes and beaten, then forced to run while the police shot arbitrarily at them, even after they produced immigration documents to prove their stay in Malaysia was valid.
Reports have also reached the self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, whose brother Agbimuddin Kiram is leading the armed incursion in Sabah, that Malaysians of Tausug descent were being singled out in the operations and brutalised at the hands of the police, including those who held MyKads.
The Tausug are also known as the Suluk people, who come from Sulu in the Philippines.
[The Malaysians] claim they are enforcing maximum tolerance, but theres no truth to that. Instead, maximum violence is whats happening. Even women, pregnant women, and children are being fired upon by Malaysian forces, Jamaluls daughter, princess Jacel Kiram, was quoted as saying in a report on Manila Standard Today.
The Sultanates spokesman, Abraham Idjirani, claimed that a pregnant woman, who was rounded up during the operation, even went into labour while under arrest in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu, where the Sulu armys hideout was at the time.
The pregnant woman gave birth at the police station, but the newborn died shortly after People are being manhandled by the police, Idjirani said, according to Manila Standard Today. They are arresting not only Filipinos and supporters of the sultanate, but also rounding up even their own citizens.
In the Inquirer, a 32-year-old Filipino named Amira Taradji said her brother was killed at the hands of the Malaysian police during their rounding-up of suspected supporters.
They dragged all the males outside the house, kicked and hit them, she told the daily in a phone call from Patikul, Sulu, shortly after she arrived in the Philippines on Friday night along with some 200 other refugees.
Taradji claimed that Malaysian security forces stormed villages in the coastal constituency of Sandakan where she was staying on Monday night, and in the ordeal, her brother Jumadil was allegedly gunned down after he was forced by the police to run as fast as he could.
According to the Inquirer, officials said there are now close to 1,000 refugees who have fled Sabah for Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, while more are expected to arrive over the next few days as Malaysia continues operations flush out the Sulu invaders.
Taradji also reported of horror tales that Malaysian authorities are deliberately starving those currently detained on suspicion of their connection or support for the Sulu incursion.
Even if you have valid immigration document, you will not be spared. If you are lucky to reach the jail, you will die of starvation because they will not feed you, she said, according to the Inquirer.
Taradji is reportedly a MyKad holder and has lived in Sandakan since she was six-years-old, but said she still decided to flee Sabah after witnessing the use of aggression by the police on Filipinos.
Another refugee, 47-year-old Carla Manlaw, told the Inquirer that she left Sabah after news spread like wildfire through the villages that the police were rounding up Filipinos and arbitrarily shooting at them.
My employer has no problem with having a Filipino employee. But what bothered me was the police, she was quoted as saying.
Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin told the Inquirer that he had spoken to many of the evacuees from Sabah and was told repeatedly of the alleged abuses by the Malaysian security personnel.
Soldiers and policemen stormed their houses and even those with legitimate working papers like passports and IC papers were not spared. These documents were allegedly torn down before their eyes. Men were told to run and were shot if they did. Those who refused were beaten black and blue. Filipinos inside the jail were executed, he said.
We are asking our government to investigate now. Refugees from Sandakan and Sabah share [the same] ordeals. If indeed what they have been telling us is true, then Malaysian authorities were not just targeting the Kirams in Lahad Datu, Amin added, according to the Inquirer.
The Malaysian government repeated its stand yesterday that it will continue hunting down Sulu invaders in Lahad Datu until every single militant is flushed out of the country.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein pointed out that the militants have refused to back down despite the all-out assault on their group by Malaysian security forces, The Star Online reported.
They have not laid down their arms unconditionally, so this will go on, he was quoted as saying yesterday, before adding that all those on duty to clear the bodies off the gunmen must prioritise their safety.
We heard about people saying there were booby traps on the blast sites so my advice is plan your moves properly and make sure safety is the top priority on the list, he added.
Hishammuddin also confirmed that the current Sulu death toll was at 53 but said there may be more lives that have yet to be accounted for.
Malaysia launched an all-out assault on the Sulu group on Tuesday morning, using fighter jets to rain down bombs on Kampung Tanduo where the Sulu group had been hiding.
After the airstrike, ground troops moved in for the mopping up operations, going from door-to-door and advancing slowly over the uneven terrain surrounding the coastal village to hunt down the armed militants.
Despite reports of the rising number of Sulu deaths, however, the Kiram clan said on Friday it believes that only 10 of its men have fallen, suggesting the use of propaganda by Malaysia to claim success over its attack on the Filipinos.
Spokesman Idjirani said the family wanted Malaysia to permit foreign journalists, including those from the Philippines, to enter the conflict zone in Lahad Datu, Sabah, to confirm the Sulu death toll.
You must allow the foreign and local media into the conflict areas to verify their claims. Until that is done, everything is subject to debate, he was quoted in The Philippine Star as saying in a Friday report.
Agbimuddin last contacted his family in the Philippines at 2.30 pm Friday, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, saying he and his men were still alive and on the run but were suffering from hunger.