Malaysian security forces gunned down 31 Philippine intruders in Borneo yesterday, the highest number of casualties in a single day since nearly 200 members of a Philippine Muslim clan took over a Malaysian village last month, police said.
The armed clansmen have wreaked political havoc for Malaysia and the Philippines by trying to stake a long-dormant territorial claim to Malaysia’s, resource-rich state of Sabah in Borneo.
Most of the Filipinos eluded capture after Malaysian forces attacked them with airstrikes and mortar fire on Tuesday.
Malaysian forces tracking them waged a fierce gunbattle that ended in the deaths of 31 clansmen yesterday, Malaysian National Police Chief Ismail Omar said, adding that no Malaysians had been injured.
Ismail said that at least 52 militants have now been killed in the past week since hostilities in Sabah escalated. Eight policemen also were fatally shot by the clansmen and their allies last week.
Less than two hours before the announcement of the casualties, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak rejected a ceasefire call by Philippine-based members of the clan led by Jamalul Kiram III, the heir of the ancient Sulu sultanate in the southern Philippines.
Kiram had ordered the group in Sabah, led by his brother, to observe a unilateral ceasefire starting yesterday afternoon by holding their position and taking a defensive posture.
“We are showing to the whole world that first the sultan wants to resolve this peacefully,” clan representative Abraham Idjirani said earlier yesterday.
Najib replied by saying Malaysia would accept only unconditional surrender by the group, who slipped into Sabah by sea early last month.
“They have to surrender their arms. They have to do it as soon as possible,” Najib said in a televised news conference.
“Don’t believe this offer of a ceasefire by Jamalul Kiram,” Malaysian Minister of Defense Ahmad Zahid Hamidi wrote on Twitter. “For the sake of the people of Sabah and Malaysia, eliminate all militants first.”
Idjirani said a ceasefire would be in line with a statement of concern made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon late on Wednesday.
Ban “urges an end to the violence and encourages dialogue among all the parties for a peaceful resolution of the situation,” the statement issued by Ban’s representative said.
The Malaysian government has insisted it made every effort to coax the intruders to leave and had to use force after the group fatally shot two policemen last week. Six other police officers were ambushed and killed by other Filipinos believed to be linked to the clansmen.
The clan say Sabah belonged to them for more than a century and should be handed back. Malaysia has dismissed their claim, which has been its territory for five decades.