KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian security forces in Borneo are attempting to persuade more than 100 armed intruders from the southern Philippines to leave peacefully, police said Thursday.
The standoff with the men who apparently call themselves part of a "royal army" belonging to a Philippine Muslim sultanate has sparked one of the biggest security scares in recent years in Malaysia's eastern Sabah state, which is less than an hour by speedboat from the southern Philippine provinces.
Malaysian Police Chief Ismail Omar said the intruders landed in Sabah's largely rural coastal district of Lahad Datu this week. They have demanded official recognition as members of the Sultanate of Sulu, which wields influence among some southern Filipino Muslims, and an assurance from Malaysia that their people who enter Borneo would not be forcibly returned to the southern Philippines, which has endured a decades-old Muslim separatist insurgency.
Authorities have told the men that they should leave first and let such matters be determined through diplomatic channels, Ismail said.
"We see the negotiations are under control, and security forces have taken early action to surround this village" where the intruders have sought shelter with local residents who appeared to be friendly with them, Ismail said.