Malaysian troops attack armed Philippine group in Sabah

Tue Mar 5, 2013 6:16am EST
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By Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian troops backed by fighter jets stormed the camp of an armed Filipino group on Tuesday, trying to end a standoff on Borneo island after violence that killed at least 27 people and sparked fears of broader insecurity in the resource-rich region.

Jets bombed the area in Malaysia's eastern Sabah state for more than 30 minutes before hundreds of ground troops moved in to search for about 200 Filipinos believed to be hiding near a coastal palm-oil plantation, Malaysian officials said.

The outcome of the operation remained unclear more than 11 hours after it began. Malaysian officials said their forces suffered no casualties but they gave no details on the fate of the Filipinos, whose allies based in Manila claimed they had survived and were still resisting.

The government-run New Straits Times newspaper reported explosions at a site 30 km (19 miles) away from the main standoff.

After telling reporters earlier the operation had been successful, police said it was still going on and that gunmen could still be at large.

"The government has to take the right action in order to preserve the pride and sovereignty of this country," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement announcing the assault.

The group is demanding recognition and an increased payment from Malaysia for their claim as the rightful owners of Sabah, part of Borneo island and which the sultanate leased to British colonialists in the 19th century.

Malaysia has refused the demands and Manila has repeatedly told the group to put down its weapons and come home. But the violence has sparked a political crisis ahead of elections in both countries. Each government says it is investigating allegations of opposition involvement.   Continued...

A member of the Royal Malaysian Navy's Naval Special Warfare Forces guards the beach near an area where armed men are holding off, in Felda Sahabat plantation farm, outside Lahad Datu on Borneo island February 19, 2013. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad