Sabah clashes may escalate with potential flash points

Malaysian police commandos stand guard near the village of Sahabat on the Malaysian island of Borneo on February 19, 2013. Shots were fired Friday in a village at the centre of a stand-off between Philippine gunmen and security forces in the Malaysian state of Sabah, the foreign department said

The violence between followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and Malaysian security forces in Sabah since last Friday threatened to escalate with at least two new possible flash points.

In Manila, a report on dzBB radio early Monday quoted the sultan's camp as saying "sketchy" reports reaching them showed the conflict could reach Kunak and the interior of Lahad Datu.

A separate report Monday on Malaysia's The Star online said the new possible flash points are in the east coast of Sabah, including Kunak.

The Star online's report said the Malaysian army and police are now working on a strategy to storm the group of Kiram's brother Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram.

It said there had been sightings of at least 10 men in military outfits in Kunak.

Also, it cited villagers' claims they sighted armed Kiram followers in "Kinabatangan and elsewhere," but added Malaysian police have denied such reports.

Tension had gripped the Semporna area as families fled. A lockdown was implemented around Simunul even as a Tiger platoon strike force was sent there.

On Sunday evening, Malaysian police Inspector-General Tan Sri Ismail Omar cited information indicating three of them were armed and wearing fatigues similar to those worn by the group of armed Filipinos at Tanduo village.

The Star online report said the 10 had been seen entering Kampung Long Malor and Kampung Dasar Lama.

But Armed Forces chief Tan Sri Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin described the "intruders" seen in Kunak 10 p.m. Saturday as "not strong."

Still, Zulkifeli said he has sent two more army battalions to Semporna and Kunak as a "public confidence builder."

Zulkifeli also described the armed men as "criminals."

He said the men arrived in small boats over a few days from Sibutu island in the Philippines, a 25-minute boat ride from Semporna. Security forces failed to detect them, he said.

“I believe they came in civilian clothes and, upon entering Sabah, they grouped up and put on their military fatigues. We found two bags with civilian clothes," he said.

He said the men could have entered on Feb. 11 or 12.

On the other hand, Zulkifeli downplayed the possibility of an uprising by the Tausugs, known as Suluks in Sabah, if Azzimudie’s group was attacked.

“Even though they are Tausug, they are law abiding people,” he said of the Tausugs.

Communication problems

Meanwhile, a separate report by dzBB's Mao dela Cruz said the sultan is experiencing communications problems with Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, the leader of the armed Filipinos in Sabah.

As of Monday morning, Sultan Kiram's wife Fatima Cecilia Kiram said they had not received any update since Sunday.

Their last information indicated Azzimudie was "okay," the report said. —KG, GMA News

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting