KL sends more troops to Sabah
Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - March 5, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - As violence spread in Sabah, Malaysia yesterday deployed armored vehicles and hundreds of additional troops to neutralize armed followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III in the country’s bloodiest security emergency in years.

The two governments confirmed yesterday that 11 more Filipinos and six Malaysian security forces were killed over the weekend in the town of Semporna near Lahad Datu, where 12 of Kiram’s supporters were earlier slain.

Sabah villagers fled as the skirmishes shocked Malaysians unaccustomed to such violence in their country, which borders insurgency-plagued southern provinces in the Philippines and Thailand.

Kiram’s more than 200 supporters, some bearing rifles, slipped past naval patrols early last month, landed in the coastal village of Lahad Datu and insisted the territory was theirs.

Public attention focused yesterday on how to minimize casualties while apprehending the sultan’s men suspected to have encroached on two other districts within 300 kilometers of Lahad Datu.

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

He declined to elaborate on specific strategies or on a call by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad for lethal action.

“There is no way out other than launching a counter-attack to eliminate” the intruders, Malaysia’s national news agency Bernama quoted Mahathir as saying Sunday. “Although many of them will be killed, this cannot be avoided because they had attacked Sabah, and not the other way around.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak declared over the weekend that security forces were authorized to “take any action deemed necessary.” The Philippines requested Malaysia to exercise maximum tolerance.

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

“We continue to ask them that life is a better option than death,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told ABS-CBN TV. “These casualties, the wounded, the fatalities, are all the product of what we have been trying to avoid, the bloodshed.”

There were reports of increased activities by armed civilians in coastal and mountainous areas of Tawau, Semporna, Kunak, Lahad Datu and Sandakan.

“Residents from these areas are very restless and most of them are seen leaving for safer areas. Malaysian police and army troops are now deployed in these places,” a source said.

A cargo plane that landed in Lahad Datu was seen unloading armored vehicles.

A senior Malaysian Army commander has admitted they are facing highly skilled combatants.

The Malaysian army commander was referring to the group of Kiram’s brother Agbimuddin, who remains in his dugout in Lahad Datu despite last Friday’s assault by Malaysian forces.

Senior Filipino security officials said the problem might worsen if not properly handled by Malaysia.

In Semporna, dead gunmen lay in the streets as villagers fled rising violence.

A total of 27 people have been reported killed after two deadly shootouts in Sabah.

An AFP reporter in Semporna saw the corpses of three suspected gunmen with gunshots wounds, covered in flies and a foul stench as dozens of people were packing up their belongings and fleeing the town. Residents said the bodies were gunmen killed by police.

“Our peaceful town has become a nightmare to live in,” Julasri Yaakob, 38, said as he heaved a bag full of clothes onto a lorry, his young daughter next to him.

“We are moving out because these are uncertain times. We heard the gunshots. My children are afraid,” he said.

The armed intrusion has deeply embarrassed Najib – who must call elections by June – by exposing lax border security and fueling perceptions of lawlessness and huge illegal immigration in Sabah.

The exact identities of the gunmen remain a mystery, but Malaysian armed forces chief Zulkifeli Zin told a news conference in Sabah on Sunday that they appeared to have guerrilla combat experience.

Authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia have called for calm, saying the situation is under control, but have come under fire from the political opposition over the police deaths.

While schools, stores and government offices were closed in Semporna, there was little sign of a heavy security presence in the town despite the recent clashes and fleeing population.

Sabah has seen previous smaller-scale cross-border raids from Islamic militants and other bandits from the Philippines.

Semporna taken?

In Manila, supporters of Kiram said Semporna is now under the control of the Sultanate’s forces.

A Tausug gunman in Sabah relayed a message to the sultanate that the Filipinos had taken over police stations and begun rounding up policemen and local officials in the area.

“This report coming from Sabah is still unconfirmed but was sent by people who are now in the area,” a top official of the Moro National Liberation Front told The STAR.

“Moro supporters of Sultan Kiram take over control Semporna, killed 100 police and captured five Malaysian police officers... 100 police armaments were taken by Moro from KIA ( killed in action) Malaysian police.. Up to this time they took control of Semporna and manning the captured police station,” the message read.

Reports also said hundreds of detained Filipinos in Semporna had been freed and issued firearms seized from the Malaysian police.

In an interview with dzMM broadcaster Noli de Castro, Kiram said he has lost contact with his brother Agbimuddin because Malaysian authorities had shut down cell sites in the area.

Kiram’s supporters, mostly Tausugs, killed a group of policemen reportedly in retaliation for the killing of a Muslim religious leader and his children recently.

Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of the sultanate, told reporters in Taguig City Sunday that Malaysian police raided the house of Imam Maas and killed him and his sons after the imam refused to reveal the whereabouts of Sultan Alepiuya Kiram, a brother of Jamalul.

“When the police failed to locate the brother of Sultan Jumalul they fired at the house of Imam Maas, a respected priest in the village,” he said.

Idjirani said the killing enraged Filipinos who attacked the police and military headquarters in the area.

Jamalul’s daughter Princess Jacel Kiram said the hostilities in Semporna have spread to other areas in Sabah and that reinforcements from Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Sulu and Zamboanga have already arrived.

Idjirani said they have been instructed by the Sultan to “take care of the captives as they will be presented to an international body to answer for the killing of innocent people.”

PNP on alert

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it is monitoring movements of followers and potential supporters of Kiram to prevent them from crossing over to Sabah and reinforcing the sultan’s armed groups.

PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima has instructed all regional directors and ground commanders to monitor the movement of Kiram’s backers, said PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr.

Cerbo clarified that the monitoring is not only focused on the Muslim community.

“Let’s see if there will be developments in security issues and concerns in their areas with respect to the development in Sabah. As of now, there’s none,” Cerbo pointed out. “We see no untoward incidents related to the Sabah issue. We want this matter to be resolved peacefully.”

Cerbo said the PNP is optimistic the matter would eventually be resolved peacefully.

He noted that the PNP has put in place measures to prevent Kiram’s sympathizers from making moves that would aggravate the situation.

Cerbo said the PNP is closely coordinating with the Philippine Coast Guard and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to prevent Kiram’s sympathizers in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and the Zamboanga peninsula from crossing the Sulu Sea.

“We have enough police forces and from all indications, there’s still no need for additional deployment of police forces,” he added.

He said even a simple mass action will be monitored.

“Although we don’t prevent them from expressing their sentiment, we have to attend to this. For example in Makati, we have to secure the embassy of Malaysia. There’s a possibility of conducting mass action and we owe it to the embassy to maintain peace and order in the area,” Cerbo noted.

On the possibility of filing charges against Kiram’s men, Cerbo maintained that the PNP has to enforce the law.

“We always say the task of the PNP is to maintain peace and order, enforce the law,” he said. – Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mike Frialde, Perseus Echeminada, AP


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