MOVING OUT Residents of Simunul village in Semporna town, where six Filipinos and five Malaysian policemen died in clashes on Saturday, lug their belongings as they leave their homes on stilts to be out of harm’s way. MALAYSIA’S THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK]

MANILA, MARCH 11, 2013 (INQUIRER) Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, The Star/Asia News Network - Malaysia on Monday sent hundreds of military troops to Sabah to help police neutralize armed followers of the sultan of Sulu who have killed eight police officers in the country’s bloodiest security crisis.

Twenty-seven people have reportedly been killed since fighting between the followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III began in Tanduao village in Lahad Datu town on March 1.

Of the dead, 19 were followers of the sultan who were killed in skirmishes with police that shocked Malaysians unaccustomed to such violence in their country.

The main group of the sultan’s followers comprising 200-odd men and women, including about 30 who are armed, is cornered by Malaysian security forces in a small area in Tanduao, where they landed on

Feb. 9 after crossing by sea from Tawi-Tawi in southern Philippines to stake the sultanate’s claim to Sabah.

It is Malaysia’s worst security breach in years and Prime Minister Najib Razak has authorized an investigation into reports that the political opposition is involved.

A similar investigation is going on in the Philippines, where the administration of President Aquino sees a conspiracy involving opponents of a peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that is in the final stages after the signing of a preliminary agreement last October.

Najib, who has vowed to root out the intruders, authorized a “doubling” of police and armed forces deployed in Sabah.

“An additional two Army battalions have been dispatched to Sabah,” Najib was quoted as saying by state news agency Bernama.

Public attention focused on Monday on how to minimize casualties while apprehending the Sulu sultan’s followers surrounded by Malaysian security forces as well as an undetermined number of other armed Filipinos suspected to be in two other districts of Sabah within 300 kilometers of Lahad Datu.

Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib said Army reinforcements from other states in Malaysia would help bolster public confidence by patrolling various parts of the state’s eastern seaboard.

“The situation is under control now,” Hamza said. “There will be cooperation” between the military and the police, he said.

Hamza declined to elaborate on specific strategies or on a call by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for lethal action.

[FILIPINO FATALITY Villagers in Kampung Simunul in Semporna look at the body of a man believed to be from Sulu who was killed during a shootout with Malaysian forces. MALAYSIA’S THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK]

“There is no way out other than launching a counterattack to eliminate” the intruders, Bernama quoted Mahathir as saying on Sunday. “Although many of them will be killed, this cannot be avoided because they had attacked Sabah, and not the other way around.”

Najib declared over the weekend that security forces were authorized to “take any action deemed necessary.”

The intruders, led by the Sulu sultan’s brother Agbimuddin, have rebuffed calls for them to leave, saying ownership documents from the late 1800s prove the territory is theirs.

Mysterious group

It remains unclear whether the armed Filipinos who ambushed a police team in Semporna town on Saturday night are part of the Lahad Datu group.

The clash in Semporna, where five Malaysian policemen and two intruders were killed, and a police claim that they were pursuing yet another group of armed men in a nearby town has sparked fears of further infiltration by Filipinos from Sulu.

The exact identities of the armed men remains a mystery, but Malaysia’s military chief, Zulkifeli Zin, told a press conference in Sabah on Sunday that the intruders appeared to have combat experience.

Their “insurgency guerrilla technique is quite good,” he was quoted as saying.

Zulkifeli said Malaysia’s military and the police were adopting a cautious approach in their plan to resolve the standoff with Agbimuddin’s group in Tanduao.

He noted that Agbimuddin’s group had planned their location around the village in such a way that they would inflict casualties if Malaysian security forces enter the area.

“They are at the center and have people spread out, including snipers,” Zulkifeli said.

“They know we will suffer casualties if we go in as the area is open,” he said.

“They are under close surveillance by our special forces,” Zulkifeli said.

But he added that while Malaysia was determined to “bring this episode to a close” as soon as possible, any action would take a little more time.

Aquino explains why he’s not sending our armed troops to Sabah By Maila Ager INQUIRER.net 10:00 pm | Wednesday, March

—”What do you want me to do?” an exasperated President Benigno Aquino III asked during a political rally here on Wednesday, explaining his administration’s actions on the Sabah situation.

Speaking at Team PNoy’s campaign held at the Rizal Park, Aquino lamented criticisms that he has been receiving for his alleged lack of actions to address the problem in Sabah.

“Hindi raw po ako maka-Filipino. Kulang raw ang ginagawa ko para sa kanila (They say I am not pro-Filipino, that what I am doing is not enough),” he said.

“Ang gusto po yata nila ipadala natin ang ating buong sandatahan at samahan sila sa marahas na pakikipagbakbakan tulad ng pagtulak nila sa peligro sa ating mga kababayan. (It seems what they want for us to do is to deploy our entire armed forces and join them in their violent means, like pushing our countrymen into disaster.)”

“Gusto ba nilang isubo na rin natin ang 95 milyong Filipino sa kaguluhan? Sino po ngayon ang walang pakundangan sa kapwa Pilipino? (Do they want us to submit our 95 million Filipinos into such chaos? Who has no consideration for our fellow Filipinos now?),” he said.

Aquino added he had always reminded and appealed to the sultan of Sulu and his followers in Sabah to return to the country and peacefully discuss the problem.

At the same time, Aquino maintained that he would not allow one’s personal interest to prevail over the welfare of the majority of Filipino people.

“So ano ho bang gusto nilang gawin ko? Pag pinadala ba natin ang sandatahang lakas natin dyan, yung Malaysia ba hindi mag iisip na; ‘Aba, tumutulong ba kayo sa solusyon o lalaki pa ulit ang problema dahil dumami pa lalo ang mga armado? (So what do they really want me to do? If we send our armed forces there, do they know that Malaysia would think: ‘Are you helping in providing solution or contributing to the gravity of the problem because of the increased number of armed men?)” he said.

“Pag dumating naman po dun ay hind armado baka naman mamaya ma-hostage pa ang ating sandatahang lakas, lumaki na naman ang ating problema.Tama po ba? (If we send unarmed troops, they might be taken hostage, our problem will get bigger. Am I right?)” the President asked the crowd.

“Tama (Right),” the crowd answered back.

Aquino reiterated that the Sabah situation could only be addressed through a fair, peaceful and reasonable dialogue.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved