Army rushing reinforcements to help police deal with latest landings

(The Star) – SEMPORNA: Two new flash points involving armed intruders erupted in the east coast of Sabah as the army and police mapped out a strategy to storm the Sulu group of Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram at Tanduo village.

The army is rushing reinforcements to help the police deal with the latest landings of about 10 men in military gear sighted in Kunak, following the killing of six policemen and six intruders in a gun battle at the Simunul water village in Semporna on Saturday night.

Sighting of armed intruders were also claimed by villagers in Kinabatangan and elsewhere but, so far, the police have denied the reports.

At Kampung Senallang Lama, about 7km from Simunul, a former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander who was armed with an M16 assault rifle and a grenade launcher was said to have rounded up villagers as hostages at a mosque. He was killed by local youths.

In the meantime, a tense situation engulfed Semporna as thousands of families fled town and a lockdown enforced around Simunul, where a Tiger platoon strike force was sent.

At a 7pm press conference in Lahad Datu yesterday, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar declared the Semporna incident has been resolved and there had not been any hostage situation.

He said the bodies of the six police personnel were recovered at Simunul.

The police had declined to initially verify villagers claim that a mother with her child as well as several police personnel might be trapped or held hostage by the armed Sulu group. Assuring the people that the situation in Sabah was under control, Ismail told the media at Felda Sahabat 16 in Lahad Datu that he has asked the military to help strengthen security in Semporna and the state.

Present at the press conference was Armed Forces chief Tan Sri Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin.

On the purported sightings of about 10 intruders at about 10pm on Saturday in Kunak, where they were seen entering Kampung Long Malor and Kampung Dasar Lama, Ismail said three of them were armed and were in fatigues that were similar to that worn by the Sulu group at Tanduo village.

Describing the intruders as “not strong”, Zulkifeli said that he has sent two more army battalions to Semporna and Kunak as a public confidence builder.

Classifying the intruders as criminals, Zulkifeli said they came in small boats over a few days from the southern Philippines island of Sibutu, which was only a 25-minute boat ride to Semporna and that was why the security forces were unable to detect them.

“I believe they came in civilian clothes and, upon entering Sabah, they grouped up and put on their military fatigues.

“We found two bags with civilian clothes,’ he said, adding that they could have entered on Feb 11 or Feb 12.

On claims by the MNLF of an uprising of the Tausugs known as Suluks in Sabah if Azzimudie’s group was attacked in Tanduo, Zulkifeli said: “Even though they are Tausug, they are law abiding people.”