Malaysian troops backed by fighter jets have stormed the camp of an armed Filipino group, trying to end a stand-off on Borneo island after violence that killed at least 27 people.
Jets bombed the area in Malaysia’s eastern Sabah state for more than 30 minutes yesterday before hundreds of ground troops moved in to search for about 200 Filipinos believed to be hiding near a coastal palm-oil plantation, Malaysian officials said.
The outcome of the operation remained unclear last night.
Malaysian officials said their forces suffered no casualties, but they gave no details on the fate of the Filipinos, whose allies in Manila claimed they had survived and were still resisting.
“The government has to take the right action in order to preserve the pride and sovereignty of this country,” Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said in a statement announcing the assault.
The group is demanding recognition and an increased payment from Malaysia for its claim as the rightful owners of Sabah, part of Borneo island and which the sultanate leased to British colonialists in the 19th century.
The Filipinos who landed in Lahad Datu, a short boat ride from the southern Philippines, said Sabah belonged to their royal sultanate for more than a century. The group is led by a brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of the southern Philippine province of Sulu.
Malaysia has refused the demands and Manila has repeatedly told the group to put down its weapons and come home. The violence has sparked a political crisis ahead of elections in both countries. Each government says it is investigating allegations of opposition involvement.
Philippine president Benigno Aquino III went on national TV twice this past week to urge the Filipino group to lay down its arms, warning the situation could imperil about 800,000 Filipino settlers in Sabah.