Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Wider Malaysia Conflict Is Feared after Assault ; House-to-House Search Begins for Filipino Rebels Still Pressing Land Claim

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Wider Malaysia Conflict Is Feared after Assault ; House-to-House Search Begins for Filipino Rebels Still Pressing Land Claim

Article excerpt

An air and ground assault by Malaysian forces killed the fighters, who were seeking to reclaim part of an island for a Filipino sultan, Malaysian police officials said.

An air and ground assault by Malaysian forces killed at least 13 of the nearly 200 militants seeking to secure part of the island of Borneo for a Filipino sultan, Malaysian officials said Wednesday.

Sporadic fighting continued Wednesday in remote coastal areas of the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah as the police and soldiers scoured rugged territory, searching house to house to find Filipino rebels who escaped a large-scale assault Tuesday. At least 40 people have died so far in the fighting.

The Malaysian state news agency, Bernama, said the police had warned on Wednesday that some of the rebels were "impersonating as members of the public."

"The mopping and searching will cover a wider area given there are signs the intruders moved to another location," Chief Ismail Omar of the Malaysian National Police said Wednesday, without providing further details.

The situation began about a month ago when an estimated 200 people from the southern Philippines landed in a remote area of Sabah State to re-establish a historic claim over the area by the Sultanate of Sulu, which ruled the area for centuries.

Nur Misuari, the founder of the southern Philippine militant group Moro National Liberation Front, said after the assault Tuesday that some battle-hardened fighters from his group were taking part in the fighting in Malaysia.

In a sign of potential widening of the conflict, the rebel leader said that more of his fighters were planning to go to Borneo on their own to reinforce the Filipino combatants there, even though he did not support the incursion into Sabah.

To halt further incursions, Malaysian and Filipino naval ships have set up a blockade between the southern Philippines and Sabah, a distance that can be traversed by speedboat in about an hour.

One analyst said that the airstrikes Tuesday had been designed to send a message of Malaysia's military strength to the gunmen, partly in retaliation for the killings of members of the security forces. …

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