KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian security forces using fighter jets attacked nearly 200 Filipino intruders on Tuesday to end the armed group's three-week violent occupation of a Borneo village that became the country's biggest security crisis in years.
Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed the assault was launched Tuesday morning after clashes in Malaysia's eastern Sabah state this past week killed eight policemen. He had earlier declared that security forces were authorized to take any action deemed necessary.
The main group of intruders comprises members of a Philippine Muslim clan, some bearing rifles and grenade launchers, who slipped past naval patrols last month, landed at a remote Malaysian coastal village in Sabah's Lahad Datu district and insisted the territory was theirs.
Nineteen Filipino gunmen have also been slain in Lahad Datu and another Sabah coastal district involving a smaller group of Filipinos since Friday. The skirmishes shocked Malaysians unaccustomed to such violence in their country, which borders insurgency-plagued southern provinces in the Philippines and Thailand.
"The government has to take the appropriate action to protect national pride and sovereignty as our people have demanded," Najib said in a statement issued through the national news agency, Bernama.
Authorities made every effort to resolve the siege peacefully since the presence of the group in Lahad Datu district became known on Feb. 12, including holding talks to encourage the intruders to leave without facing any serious legal repercussions, Najib said.
"The longer this intrusion persisted, it became clear to the authorities that the intruders had no intention to leave Sabah," Najib said. "As a peace-loving Islamic country that upholds efforts to settle conflicts through negotiations, our struggle to avoid bloodshed in Lahad Datu did not work."
Sabah police chief Hamza Taib confirmed the attack involved ground and air operations conducted by both the police and military, which included bombing the area. He declined to elaborate, saying the operation remained ongoing two hours after it was launched shortly after dawn.
Abraham Idjirani, spokesman for the Sulu sultanate, told reporters in Manila that the Filipino group in Sabah would not surrender and that their leader was safe. The group is led by a brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of the southern Philippine province of Sulu.
Lahad Datu district is a short boat ride from the Philippine province, and the clan members had rebuffed calls to leave, claiming Sabah belonged to their royal sultanate and that Malaysia has been paying a paltry amount to lease the vast territory with many palm plantations.
The Philippine government had asked Malaysia to exercise maximum tolerance to avoid further bloodshed.
Continue reading this story on the...