Malaysia in standoff with suspected Philippine militants

Malaysian police said security forces surrounded and ordered a group of gunmen to surrender in the town of Lahad Datu, Sabah.

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's government said on Thursday that its security forces have surrounded dozens of suspected Philippine militants in a remote area with a history of incursions by armed Filipino Islamic groups.

About 80 to 100 gunmen have been cornered in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters.

He said security forces were negotiating with the men near the small coastal town of Lahad Datu.

"We know the situation is still under control. I confirm that no Malaysian citizens, to my knowledge, are being held hostage or for ransom," Hishammuddin said.

"Security forces are still in control and negotiating with them, some of whom are armed."

He declined to confirm that the gunmen were from the adjacent southern Philippines.

But asked whether Philippine authorities were involved in negotiations, Hishammuddin said: "Of course they will have to be involved in the operations."

National police chief Ismail Omar had said in a statement late Wednesday that "the intrusion is a result of the problems in the southern Philippines".

That was an apparent reference to Muslim militants and other lawlessness in the southern Philippines, which lies just across the Sulu Sea from Sabah.

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Najib Razak was quoted by The Star newspaper as saying police were negotiating with the gunmen "to get the group to leave peacefully to prevent bloodshed".

"We have surrounded the area and our police and armed forces have the ability to handle the matter," he was quoted as saying.

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