Published on Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Gun battles on holiday island force FCO to issue travel warning

The Foreign Office is advising tourists to stay away from a large area of  Sabah on the island of Borneo following an outbreak of violence.

The FCO said those currently staying along parts of the east coast should consider leaving as soon as possible and to follow the advice of the local police.

At least 20 people have been shot dead in an exchange of gun-fire between followers of an exiled Filipino sultan, who are trying to reclaim the island for his heir, and Malaysian troops. 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 but the Foreign office is advising against all but essential travel to an area running east along the coast from Lahad Datu, Sabah's fourth largest city, and running south and east from a line joining Lahad Datu to Tawau through Kunak.

This area includes Semporna and the islands immediately off the coast.

Although the majority of tourists visiting Sabah stick to the west coast around the main airport, Kota Kinabulu, the tropical rainforest of the Danum Valley is a big draw and it is only 70kms inland from Lahad Datu.

Divers are also attracted to Sipadan Island off the east coast, which is included in the travel ban.


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