Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Tensions Rise as 7 Die in Fighting on Borneo ; Malaysia Doubles Forces; Religious Group Takes Hostages in Latest Clash

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Tensions Rise as 7 Die in Fighting on Borneo ; Malaysia Doubles Forces; Religious Group Takes Hostages in Latest Clash

Article excerpt

Seven people were reported killed and four hostages taken as fighting continued over a historical claim by a Philippine religious group.

Seven people were reported killed, and four hostages taken, as fighting continued Sunday in the Malaysian state of Sabah over a historic claim to the area by a religious group from the southern Philippines.

The Malaysian government said the police and military presence in the area was being doubled, while the religious group said an undetermined number of supporters from the southern Philippines had entered the area to reinforce those supporting the claim.

The Malaysian and Philippine navies have stepped up patrols in the waters between Sabah and the southern Philippines, which can be traversed in a speedboat in a little more than an hour.

Five Malaysian police officers and two of their attackers were killed in an ambush Saturday, officials said Sunday. The Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported Sunday that villagers near the ambush had beaten to death a man suspected of being one of the attackers. That brought the death toll from fighting in the area to at least 21.

On Friday, 12 members of the Filipino religious group and 2 Malaysian commandos were killed during a failed attempt to capture the group that had been holding a small village on the eastern coast of Borneo island since Feb. 12.

A spokesman for the group, whose members claim to be heirs to the sultanate of Sulu, which ruled parts of northern Borneo for centuries, said Sunday that its forces on Sabah had taken hostage a Malaysian police officer, two soldiers and a government official.

"We advised the people on the ground to take care of them, to feed them, so that in case there shall be international agencies to investigate the matter we can present those four captured government officials of Malaysia as witnesses to the atrocities committed by the government of Malaysia," the group's spokesman, Abraham Idjirani, said Sunday. …

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