Malaysia troops kill 13, hunt gunmen after Sabah assault

FELDA SAHABAT, Malaysia Wed Mar 6, 2013 4:38am EST

Villagers carry the body of a dead gunmen that was killed on Saturday for removal at Simunul village in Sabah's Semporna district March 4, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Villagers carry the body of a dead gunmen that was killed on Saturday for removal at Simunul village in Sabah's Semporna district March 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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FELDA SAHABAT, Malaysia (Reuters) - Malaysian security forces said they had killed 13 suspected Philippine militants as they expanded their hunt for an elusive armed group on Borneo island on Wednesday, a day after an assault with fighter jets, mortars and hundreds of troops.

The nearly month-long confrontation in Sabah state, in Malaysia's part of Borneo, was sparked when the armed group of about 200 sailed from the nearby southern Philippines to press an ancient claim to the resource-rich region.

At least 40 people have been killed, including eight Malaysian policemen, raising concerns of broader insecurity ahead of elections in Malaysia.

"The total is 13. There could be more," Malaysian Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi told reporters at a media center set up at a palm oil plantation called Felda Sahabat.

Zahid, who produced what he described as pictures of some of the dead militants, said Malaysian forces had suffered no fresh casualties since the assault was launched on Tuesday.

Malaysian police warned residents to be on alert for members of the group who had likely escaped into plantations that dominate the coastal area and who could be posing as farmers.

"The mopping and searching will cover a wider area given there are signs the intruders moved to another location," police inspector-general Ismail Omar told reporters.

"The security forces are tracking down their movements and will take the appropriate action."

FIGHTERS WILL NOT RETURN HOME: SPOKESMAN

Allies of the group in Manila said they had been in telephone contact with Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the militants' leader and the brother of the self-proclaimed sultan, who said the group had split up to avoid detection.

Abraham Idjirani, a spokesman for the group, told Reuters that 10 of the sultan's followers had died, with 10 captured and four wounded.

"They will not come home and would rather die fighting if cornered," he said of the remaining followers in Sabah.

The family in Manila also said more followers had arrived to reinforce the group, a journey between the Southeast Asian neighbors that takes around an hour by speedboat.

Army trucks carrying dozens of soldiers continued to enter the village of Kampung Tanduo where the group had originally been holed up. A helicopter hovered overhead.

Fighter jets bombed the group's camp in the Felda Sahabat plantation early on Tuesday after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said his patience had run out. Philippine officials had urged the group to return home.

The group says it represents the now defunct sultanate of Sulu in the southern Philippines and demands recognition and payment from Malaysia for their claim as rightful owners of Sabah.

The security headache could prompt Najib to delay an election that must be held by June, adding to nervousness among investors over what could be the country's closest ever polls.

The insecurity has disrupted operations in Sabah's huge palm oil industry. Prolonged trouble could dampen growing investor interest in energy and infrastructure projects in the state, although the main oil fields are far from the standoff.

(Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage and Siva Sithraputhran in Kuala Lumpur, Angie Teo in Felda Sahabat and Manuel Mogato and Rosemarie Francisco in Manila; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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Comments (1)
Maamongtupa wrote:
In 1906 and in 1920, the United States formally reminded Great Britain that North Borneo did not belong to the Crown and was still part of the Sultanate of Sulu. However, the British did turn Sabah into a Crown Colony.

The Philippine Constitution of 1935 states that the national territory of the Philippines included, among other things, “all other areas which belong to the Philippines on the basis of historical rights or legal claims”. Malaysia was federated in 16 September 1963. Even before Sabah was incorporated into Malaysia, the Philippines sent delegations to London reminding the British Crown that Sabah belonged to the Philippines

Republic Act 5446, which took effect on 18 September 1968, regards Sabah as a territory “over which the Republic of the Philippines has acquired dominion and sovereignty.” On 16 July 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the Philippine claim over Sabah is retained and may be pursued in the future.

Mar 06, 2013 8:22am EST  --  Report as abuse
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