Malaysia standoff with armed Filipinos erupts in violence

KUALA LUMPUR Fri Mar 1, 2013 7:34am EST

1 of 2. Followers of former Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III stand in front of a banner displayed at the gate of Blue Mosque in Maharlika village, Taguig city, south of Manila, March 1, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A standoff between Malaysian security forces and armed Filipinos erupted in violence on Friday, with two police officers and 12 members of the Philippine group killed as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak declared his patience had run out.

Malaysian police said the killings occurred on Friday morning when security forces tightened the cordon around the group in the eastern state of Sabah and were attacked, resulting in a 30-minute firefight.

Sabah police chief Hamza Taib told a news conference that the remaining Filipinos were still holed up, contradicting Philippine government officials who said some had surrendered while others had fled.

"The situation is under control, we have maintained the cordon and we have tightened the cordon and we are confident the intruders are now in a tight situation. They have been contained in a small area," Hamza said.

More than 100 followers of the Sultanate of Sulu in the southern Philippines landed in Sabah last month demanding recognition and payment from the Malaysian government. Both the Philippine and Malaysian governments had repeatedly urged them to return home.

Najib told state-run Bernama news agency he had given Malaysian security forces a mandate to take "any action" against the group following the clash.

"Do not test our patience, our patience has reached the limit," he was quoted as saying earlier.

"We have a plan to remove them, they should have surrendered and left," said Najib, who must call national elections by April and has come under pressure from the opposition for allowing the bizarre standoff to drag on.

Three Malaysian police officers were wounded in the shoot-out, police said.

A spokesman for the armed group, Abraham Idjirani, told reporters in Manila that the men had moved to another location to continue their fight and urged Malaysia to hold talks.

The confrontation had threatened to reignite tension between the Philippines and Malaysia. Ties have been periodically frayed by security and migration problems along their sea border.

The group is demanding recognition from Malaysia and renegotiation of the original terms of a lease on Sabah by the Sultanate to a British trading company in the 19th century. Malaysian officials have said the group's demands will not be met.

(Reporting by Niluksi Koswanage and Anuradha Raghu in Kuala Lumpur; Rosemarie Francisco and Manny Mogato in Manila; Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Nick Macfie)

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