Sabah crisis death toll reaches 63

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 11 2013 08:19 PM | Updated as of Mar 12 2013 04:19 AM

Malaysian troops clear remote Sabah village

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Malaysian police said Monday they had cleared a remote village at the heart of a month-long incursion by Filipino Islamists as another gunman was killed, raising the toll in the crisis to 63.

But the remaining followers of a self-styled Philippine sultan were still being hunted in a neighboring village and surrounding farmland a week after Malaysia sent in the army to root them out.

The armed group landed on the coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island early last month in a bizarre bid to assert the "sultan's" historical claim to the areas.

Surrounded by security forces, they dug in for a standoff in the sleepy village of Tanduo amid vast palm oil plantations until a deadly shootout prompted a military attack that scattered the militants.

Sabah state police chief Hamza Taib said security forces had now secured Tanduo but were pursuing the remaining fighters in the village of Tanjung Batu and surrounding areas.

He added that another gunman was shot in Tanjung Batu on Sunday, bringing to 54 the number of militants killed in Malaysia's worst security crisis in years.

Eight police officers were killed in earlier shootouts and security forces also shot dead a teenager at the weekend. It has not been made clear whether the teen was a local or one of the militants.

Supporters of Manila-based Jamalul Kiram III, whose supporters call him the heir to the defunct southern Philippine sultanate of Sulu, have said about 235 people took part in the mission.

The incursion has created a delicate situation for the two neighbours, with Manila under pressure to prevent the deaths of the Philippine nationals, while Malaysian public sentiment strongly back the tough army action.

Hamza also said the number arrested in Sabah since the incursion began grew to 97 with 12 new arrests.

Police have said those arrested had suspected links to the incursion, but have provided no details.