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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Esmail Kiram II, Sultan of Sulu - obituary

Sultan of Sulu whose claim to Malaysian-held Sabah on Borneo led to an ill-fated attempted invasion

Esmail Kiram II, who has died aged 75, was the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, a tiny archipelago province of the Philippines that, in 2013, staged an invasion of the Malaysian enclave of Sabah on Borneo, sparking a security crisis.

The Kiram sultanate of Sulu, which emerged in the 1400s, built a reputation for its feared Tausug warriors and for several centuries the sultans ruled over vast tracts of land and ocean – including parts of Borneo – from opulent palaces.

The sultanate’s claim to Sabah (the island of Borneo is divided between Indonesia in the south, and Brunei and the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah to the north), dates back to 1658 when it was said to have been granted sovereignty by the Sultan of Brunei in return for help repelling foreign invaders. Over the next two centuries, however, agreements were signed with British trading companies which ended, in 1878, with resource-rich Sabah being leased to Baron Von Overbeck for the British North Borneo Company. Eventually the British Crown claimed absolute sovereignty.

At around the same time the sultanate came under the control of Spain in Manila. In 1885 Britain, Germany and Spain signed an agreement to cement Spanish influence over the islands of the Philippines under which Spain relinquished all claim to territories in Borneo which had belonged to the sultanate in the past to the British.

When Malaysia was granted independence in 1963, Sabah voted to became part of its territory. But in a further twist the Philippine government staked its own claim to Sabah because the then sultan of Sulu, Esmail Kiram I, had signed an agreement giving Manila the right to claim the territory. At one point the disputed claim led the Philippines and Malaysia to sever diplomatic ties.

Shunted aside by history, the sultans are still regarded as royalty by about 75,000 followers in Sulu – one of the poorest regions of the Philippines – but are no longer officially recognised by the Manila government and have little else to do other than nurse historic grievances.

In recent years a dispute over succession rights within the family was sparked by the decision, in 1990, of Esmail’s elder brother Jamalul, who had been crowned sultan in 1986, to leave Sulu for Manila to enter politics and showbusiness in violation of sultanate law. As rival claimants jostled for position, in 2001 Esmail was crowned “Reigning Sultan” by the elders of Sulu. However in November 2012 Jamalul once again proclaimed himself sultan and set about securing his position by reasserting his claim to Sabah. As Jamalul was by then living in a shabby two-storey house in a poor suburb of Manila, Esmail continued to administer the court in Sulu as co-regent.

On February 11 2013 a group of around 200 armed men led by another brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, set off to cross the narrow stretch of sea between Sulu and Sabah. The intrusion led to a standoff between the sultan’s followers and Malaysian authorities, followed by a rout which cost the lives of 63 Sulu militants and 10 members of the Malaysian security forces, and forced more than 6,000 Filipinos to flee Sabah. The crisis, the most serious in Malaysia in more than a decade, strained the country’s relationship with the Philippines.

When Jamalul died in October 2013, Esmail was named sultan. He refused to give up his claims to Sabah which he described as “undeniable and indisputable” and appealed to the UN “to take the necessary preferential attentions for a peaceful resolution of the conflict to avoid further bloodshed .”

One of 13 children of Sultan Punjungan Kiram, Esmail Kiram was born on November 9 1939, in Maimbung, Sulu, and was directly descended from the first sultan, Sharif ul–Hashim (1405-?).

Another brother, Phugdal Kiram, has been named the new sultan.

Sumber - Telegraph

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