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Armed men spotted; unconfirmed reports say hostages taken; People fleeing Lahad Datu, Kunak and Semporna in panic
By Borneo Insider Reporters
FELDA SABAHAT, [LAHAD DATU]: A fresh intrusion into Sabah’s east coast has been reported. Armed men were spotted at Tanjung Labian and Tanjung Batu, two seaside villages close to each other, and not far from Tanduo, in Sahabat 17.
Sabah police commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib confirmed this latest development but has declined further information.
Unconfirmed reports filtering in to Borneo Insider said the armed men, believed to be raiders of the Sulu Sultanate, came about the same time, Semporna also came under alert with frantic security personnel taking defensive positions at the Marine Police base as well as the District police Station.
And Borneo Insider also learnt that a panic situation has also surfaced in neighbouring Kunak where shops and businesses shut down early following alerts by security personnel.
In Lahad Datu, which is the closest to Tanduo, where the security forces are in a stand-off with raiders of the Sulu army, lesser people movement was reported and shops have had their shutters down once again.
Rumours have also surfaced in Kota Kinabalu, Sepanggar and Kinarut, though police have denied that there is any situation that warranted worry.
People are not taking the situation lightly and supermarkets have reported panic buying of essential commodities like rice and cooking oil.
Informed sources claimed in a call to Borneo Insider that movement of security personnel has increased in the Felda Sahabat areas and armoured personnel carriers (APCs) were seen being transported in.
In Tanduo, it is now certain that army tanks and crack troops are poised to enter Tanduo in a bid to end the three-week long stand-off.
In an article that appeared in news portal Sabahkini.com today, its report claimed that 30 villagers of Tanjung Labian and Tanjung Batu have been taken hostage by heavily armed Filipino militants and are now being held in one of the houses.
The report claimed that they had been contacted by UMNO Tg Labian branch chief, Kunsul Nahul that his son, named Rudy, was among the hostages being held.
Last night (Sunday) Kunsul claimed that senior police officers had been told about the forthcoming arrivals of the raiders, but police seemed cool towards it and there was no police presence at all.
“But at 9.00am Monday, the men appeared and rounded up the villagers,” a disappointed and worried Kunsul was quoted as saying.
Other villagers in Tg Labian and Tg Batu have since been evacuated.
French wire news agency, AFP reported that a total of 27 people have been killed after two deadly shootouts in Sabah on Borneo island where militants landed on February 12, claiming the state for the heir to a former Philippine sultanate.
Malaysians have been shocked by the incursion, which began three weeks ago when an estimated 100-300 intruders were cornered by police and the military in the remote farming village of Tanduo.
A Friday shootout there killed 12 intruders and two police.
But fears of a wider guerrilla infiltration have escalated after another weekend gun battle in Semporna, a town that is hours away by road, in which six policemen and six gunmen died.
An AFP reporter in Semporna saw the corpses of three suspected gunmen with gunshots wounds, covered in flies and a foul stench as dozens of people were packing up their belongings and fleeing the town.
Residents said the bodies were gunmen killed by police.
“Our peaceful town has become a nightmare to live in,” Julasri Yaakob, 38, told AFP as he heaved a bag full of clothes onto a lorry, his young daughter next to him.
“We are moving out because these are uncertain times. We heard the gunshots. My children are afraid,” he said.
At least 18 suspected militants and eight police officers have been killed in the gunfights, while authorities say another gunman was beaten to death Saturday by villagers in Semporna.
Semporna District Officer Abdul Mohd Ibnu Adul Kadir, was a furious person Monday afternoon, lamenting the latest “alert-call” put out by the district police.
“Some 90 per cent of our tourists have cancelled their bookings and you know that Semporna depends very much on the tourism sector. His badly affecting our town and I am getting very annoyed,” he told reporters.
“I hope we can recover within a month,” he added.
British dive master, Max Mitchson, 23 of Scuba Junkie downplayed the latest alert, saying, “if at all we are going to put our customers at risk, then we will cancel our trips to the islands (Mabul and Sipadan) but just today, we had 25 foreigners sent over and tomorrow there will be another 35 persons.
“I think people here are just over-reacting,” he added when caught up at one of the few coffee-shops in Semporna that remained open despite the alert.
Followers of the 74-year-old Manila-based Islamic leader, Jamalul Kiram III, say the gunmen are ready to die to defend his claim to Sabah, which was once controlled by the now-defunct sultanate.
The exact identities of the gunmen remains a mystery, but Malaysian armed forces chief Zulkifeli Zin told a news conference in Sabah on Sunday that they appeared to have guerrilla combat experience.
The adjacent southern Philippines has been wracked for decades by Muslim insurgencies.
Authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia have called for calm, saying the situation was under control, but have come under fire from the political opposition over the police deaths.
In Semporna, schools, stores and government offices were closed, but there was little sign of a heavy security presence in the town despite the recent clashes and fleeing population.
Sabah has seen previous smaller-scale cross-border raids from Islamic militants and other bandits from the Philippines.
The Sulu sultanate’s power faded about a century ago but it has continued to receive nominal Malaysian payments for Sabah under a lease deal inherited from European colonial powers.