Philippine 'sultan' calls for ceasefire with Malaysia

MANILA, March 7, 2013 (AFP) - A self-proclaimed Philippine sultan whose followers launched a deadly incursion into Malaysia last month called Thursday for a ceasefire, following a major offensive by Malaysian troops.

Jamalul Kiram III declared a unilateral ceasefire for 12:30 pm (0430 GMT) and urged Malaysia to reciprocate, according to a statement read out by his spokesman in Manila.

"They will not take any action. They will remain in the place where they are now. They will not expand operations," the spokesman said, referring to the militants, believed to number between 100 and 300, in Malaysia's Sabah state.

The spokesman, Abraham Idjirani, said Kiram was responding to a call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday in which he urged an end to the violence and encourage dialogue between the opposing sides.

"The sultan is calling for a unilateral ceasefire... in order to reciprocate the call of the UN to preserve lives," said Idjirani, as the elderly and ailing Kiram sat next to him.

"We hope Malaysia reciprocates the same call for a ceasefire."

Kiram sent his followers from their southern Philippine island homes across the Sulu Sea and into a remote region of neighbouring Sabah on Borneo island to assert an ancestral claim.

At least 28 people, mostly militants, have been reported killed since the stand-off began more than three weeks ago.

Malaysia launched an air and ground attack Tuesday aimed at crushing the militants.

But the assault failed to eliminate the insurgents, and Malaysian security forces continued Thursday to scour the region of vast palm plantations and jungles for them.

The Sultan of Sulu once ruled over islands that are now parts of the southern Philippines, as well as Sabah.

However the sultanate lost control of Sabah to European colonial powers in the 18th Century.

Kiram says he is the current Sultan of Sulu, although the sultanate no longer has any formal power in the Philippines. He said his men went to Sabah to assert their claim to the area.