Fatima Celia, the wife of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, told The Associated Press that her husband died in her arms early Sunday at a Philippine hospital, adding that before he died he ordered his family and followers to keep alive the historic territorial claims to Sabah state in neighboring Malaysia.
Although largely forgotten and dismissed as a vestige from a bygone era, Kiram's Muslim sultanate, based in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, stirred up a security crisis in Malaysia when his younger brother and about 200 followers, dozens of them armed, barged into Sabah's coastal village of Lahad Datu.
Stunned, Malaysia responded by sending in ground troops and launching air strikes. Dozens were killed in weeks of sporadic fighting before the standoff eased.
Malaysia has governed the resource-rich frontier region of timberlands and palm oil plantations in northern Borneo as its second-largest federal state since the 1960s.
The Kiram sultanate, which emerged in the 1400s, built a legend for its wide influence at the time and its feared Tausug warriors. Chinese and European leaders once sent vassals to pay homage to their powerful forebears, sultanate spokesman Abraham Idjirani said. The Sulu sultanate preceded both the Philippine republic and Malaysia by centuries.
But overrun by history, the Kirams now carry royal titles and nothing much else.