Raja Muda Abimuddin Kiram, the leader of the armed group, told Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan on Saturday that authorities fired at them in an apparent bid to end the three-week standoff that threatened to complicate the relations between the two countries.
Alindogan reported she “could hear gunshots [in] the background”, when she talked to Kiram on the phone.
However, there have been no confirmation from the Philippine and Malaysian government.
Members of a Muslim royal clan, who call themselves the ‘royal sulu army’, from the southern Philippines landed in a coastal village in Sabah on February 9 to claim the territory as their own, citing ownership documents from the late 1800s.
They ignored appeals from Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to leave immediately or face prosecution at home on charges of triggering armed conflict.
Mar Roxas, the Philippine interior secretary, said that according to the Philippine police attaché in Malaysia, the police in Sabah fired warning shots. Roxas had no reports of any casualties.
On Tuesday, Aquino urged Kiram’s brother in the southern province of Sulu, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, to order his followers to return home and called their action a “foolhardy act” that was bound to fail.
The standoff elevated the Sabah territorial issue, which has been a thorn in Philippine-Malaysian relations for decades, to a Philippine national security concern.
The crisis erupted at a crucial stage of peace negotiations, brokered by Malaysia, between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the southern Philippines.
Aquino has said that the standoff may have been an attempt to undermine his government on the part of those opposing the peace deal, including politicians and warlords who fear being left out in any power sharing arrangements.
The Philippines this week sent a navy ship with social and medical workers off Lahad Datu while trying to persuade the Filipinos to return home.