| FELDA SAHABAT, Malaysia, March 6
FELDA SAHABAT, Malaysia, March 6 Malaysian
soldiers expanded their hunt for elusive Philippine militants on
Borneo island on Wednesday, a day after an all-out assault with
fighter jets, mortars and hundreds of troops failed to end the
The nearly month-long confrontation in Sabah state was
sparked when gunmen sailed from the nearby southern Philippines
to press an ancient claim to the resource-rich region.
Clashes killed at least 27 people including eight Malaysian
policemen in the days leading up to the assault, raising
concerns of broader insecurity ahead of elections in Malaysia.
Malaysian police said one gunman was shot on Wednesday, and
warned residents to be on alert for members of the group who had
likely escaped into palm-oil plantations that dominate the
coastal area and who could be posing as farmers. It was unclear
if the gunman had been killed.
"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."
On Wednesday, army trucks carrying dozens of soldiers
continued to enter the village of Kampung Tanduo where the group
had originally been holed up, while a helicopter hovered
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, which numbers close to 200, to return home.
The group claims to represent the now defunct sultanate of
Sulu in the southern Philippines and is demanding recognition
and payment from Malaysia for their claim as rightful owners of
Allies of the sultanate 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.
The family in Manila also claimed that more followers had
arrived to reinforce the group, a journey between the Southeast
Asian neighbours that takes around an hour by speedboat.
Malaysian officials said on Tuesday their forces suffered no
casualties but gave no details on the fate of the Filipinos.
Their allies in Manila had claimed many had survived and were
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 in Kuala Lumpur,
Editing by Dean Yates; Manuel Mogato and Rosemarie Francisco in
Manila; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Dean Yates)