Six policemen among 13 dead as violence spreads in Borneo

Six policemen among dead as tensions rise amid siege involving Filipino royal clan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 8:55am

Gunmen ambushed and killed six Malaysian policemen as fears grew that armed intruders from the southern Philippines had slipped into at least three coastal districts on Borneo island, officials said yesterday.

Six of the attackers were also shot dead on Saturday night and another was beaten to death by angry villagers, escalating tensions in eastern Sabah state, where Malaysia's biggest security crisis in recent years began after about 200 members of a Philippine Muslim royal clan occupied a village last month to claim the territory as their own.

Security forces clashed with the clan members in the coastal area of Lahad Datu on Friday, leaving 12 Filipinos and two Malaysian police commandos dead.

The remaining clan members have refused to budge, and concerns have grown that other groups from the Philippines' restive southern provinces might enter Sabah, which shares a long and porous sea border with the Philippines that is difficult to patrol. The Malaysian and Philippine navies have strengthened their presence in waters near their border, according to Filipino officials.

Police dropped leaflets by helicopter over the occupied village on Saturday telling the Filipinos to give up. Police said they were also investigating sightings of armed foreigners in military-style clothing in a third Sabah seaside district nearby. It was not clear whether the groups in the three areas were linked.

A police team was attacked late on Saturday while inspecting a settlement in Semporna town, 300 kilometres from the site of the three-week stand-off.

Six of the assailants were fatally shot by police at the settlement and another was beaten to death by villagers whom he apparently tried to take captive while armed with a rifle, said Sabah police chief Hamza Taib.

Officials issued calls for calm as some stores in the region reported panic buying of goods.

"I am calling for co-operation and assistance from local leaders to tone down the sentiments and numerous rumours on what is happening in Sabah," the state's chief minister, Musa Aman, said.

An estimated 100 to 300 Filipinos have been surrounded in a farming village by a Malaysian police and military cordon since landing by boat from the nearby Philippines on February 12 to insist that the area belongs to their Islamic leader.

The leader, Jamalul Kiram III, 75, claims to be the heir to the Islamic sultanate of Sulu, which once controlled parts of the southern Philippines and Sabah.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse