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Malaysian Premier Najib Razak (right) meets soldiers at Felda Sahabat near Lahad Datu, on Borneo Island in Malaysia’s Sabah state yesterday.
Felda sahabat: Malaysia yesterday said clashes between intruding Filipino militants and its security forces had left 60 people dead, as it rejected a ceasefire offer from the fighters’ leader.
Police chief Ismail Omar said 32 followers of a self-proclaimed Philippine sultan had been killed in two confrontations since Wednesday near the scene of a three-week standoff in Sabah state, after a military assault to dislodge them.
That brought the total dead to 60, including 52 militants. Eight Malaysian policemen were killed last weekend.
Troops and police are hunting Islamic militants in a remote region of Borneo island, where they landed last month to assert a long-dormant territorial claim in what has become Malaysia’s worst security crisis in years.
A spokesman for their Manila-based leader, who called for a noon ceasefire, said 235 people, including eight women, took part in the incursion.
Prime Minister Najib Razak flew to the region and inspected security operations. He said he told Philippine leader Benigno Aquino by phone the ceasefire offer was rejected.
“I told President Aquino they must lay down their arms immediately,” Najib said in the Tanjung Batu near where the army and police were searching for militants.
“They have to surrender their arms and have to do it as soon as possible.”
The “sultan”, Jamalul Kiram III, declared a unilateral ceasefire at 12.30pm (0430 GMT) and urged Malaysia to reciprocate.
But Najib said Malaysian forces would press on with the offensive, sending more soldiers into the hilly region of vast oil palm estates and pockets of jungle.
Officials said one encounter took place in Tanduo, where the standoff began, and the other in the neighbouring village of Tanjung to the east. The remaining militants were still believed to be in the two villages.
The incursion began on February 12 when fighters arrived from the southern Philippines to press Kiram’s claim to the area.
Kiram says he is heir to the Sultanate of Sulu, which once ruled islands, now part of the southern Philippines, as well as Sabah.
The main group of militants was holed up in Tanduo for three weeks until the two deadly shootouts with forces triggered a military assault to dislodge them. The attack scattered the fighters.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged a peaceful resolution.
“(Ban) urges an end to the violence and encourages dialogue among all parties for a peaceful resolution of the situation,” said a statement released by his office.
Kiram declared the “unilateral ceasefire... to reciprocate the call of the UN to preserve lives,” his spokesman said.
Tension is high in eastern Sabah. Residents of some towns have fled after police said gunmen were spotted in other areas down the coast, raising fears of a wider guerrilla infiltration.
Police said the bodies of six police officers killed in a weekend ambush in the coastal town of Semporna were mutilated.
They said six militants responsible for the ambush were later killed.
The incursion has created a delicate situation for the two neighbours, with the Philippines calling for Malaysian restraint before Tuesday’s military assault.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said his government might seek Kiram’s extradition if Manila failed to take action. But Manila said that was unlikely, citing the lack of an extradition treaty.AFP