Death toll rises to at least 7 in latest violence with suspected Filipino gunmen in Malaysia

Published March 03, 2013

| Associated Press

At least seven people have been killed in a shootout between police and suspected Filipino intruders on Borneo island, Malaysia's police chief said Sunday.

The shooting Saturday night occurred 150 kilometers (90 miles) from another district in eastern Sabah state where 14 people were killed earlier after members of a Philippine Muslim royal clan occupied a village last month to claim the territory as their own.

National Police Chief Ismail Omar said that five policemen were killed in the ambush by unidentified gunmen in the coastal town of Semporna. Two of the attackers were killed, he said.

Malaysia's biggest security crisis in recent years began when about 200 Filipinos landed in Lahad Datu on Feb. 9, saying ownership documents from the late 1800s proved the territory was theirs. They rejected repeated calls from both the Malaysian and Philippine governments for them to leave Sabah, a short boat ride from the restive provinces in the southern Philippines.

On Friday, Malaysian authorities clashed with the clan members, leaving 12 Filipinos and two Malaysian police commandos dead.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday that the government would offer "no compromise — either they surrender or face the consequences if they refuse."

Police dropped leaflets by helicopter over the occupied village Saturday telling the Filipinos to give up, while the navy bolstered patrols in waters between Malaysia and the Philippines.

The Filipino group is led by a brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of the southern Philippine province of Sulu.

The standoff elevated the Sabah territorial issue, a thorn in Philippine-Malaysian relations for decades, to a national security concern for both countries.

In Manila, Jamalul Kiram III told reporters that he was worried the violence in Sabah might spread because many Filipinos, especially followers of his sultanate in the southern Philippine, are upset by the killing of their compatriots in Lahad Datu.

His daughter, Jacel, who is a sultanate princess, called on Filipinos to stay calm but stressed the sultanate would never back down from its struggle to reclaim Sabah.

"This concerns honor above life," she told reporters. "We will not retreat just like that, because we're fighting for something and our struggle is our right and the truth."

She criticized the Philippine government for echoing Malaysia's call for the Filipinos in Lahad Datu to surrender unconditionally.

The crisis erupted during peace negotiations brokered by Malaysia between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main Muslim rebel group in the southern Philippines.

Some Malaysians have voiced worries about whether tens of thousands of Philippine migrants living in Sabah, many undocumented workers, might sympathize with the Filipino group and cause unrest if they're upset with the government's reaction to the crisis.

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AP writer Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.

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