Published on Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sabah Crisis Update: Malaysia troops in air and ground attacks

Malaysia is beefing up security in Sabah where more than 20 people have been reported killed after a standoff initiated by followers of an exiled Filipino sultan whose powers were bestowed a century ago by British colonial authorities.

Details of the conflict - Malaysia's worst security crisis for years - are confused because authorities appear unsure about the whereabouts and the identities of the attackers.

It is being reported that the intruders came in small boats over a few days from the southern Philippines island of Sibutu, a 25-minute boat ride to the town of Semporna in Sabah.

Malaysia is sending seven battalions to Sabah in Borneo to support security forces who have been engaged in at least two gun battles with the insurgents, who were reported to be under air and ground attack early on Tuesday morning.

Sabah is one of Malaysia's tourism drawcards, especially for its orangutans and other wildlife.

Armed forces chief Zulkifeli Zin told a press conference in Sabah that the intruders appeared to have combat experience.

The invaders are claiming Sabah for the heir to a former Philippine sultanate.

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 Star newspaper has reported that thousands of families have fled the town of Semporna, where one of the gun battles took place.

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