Police sources said as they approached a house at Lorong 5 of the sprawling seaside squatter settlement at about 7pm, shooting broke out with the gunmen.

They said at least 19 policemen were trapped for about 48 hours till about 6.30pm on Sunday as a strike force painstakingly concluded a house-to-house search for snipers, booby traps and bombs strapped to bodies.

At about 9pm, the police announced that aside from the six and an equal number of the intruders killed, the other policemen had all been accounted for.

Three bodies of the gunmen were left lying at the scene one in a boat, another on the walkway and the third on a veranda at the village until about 1pm yesterday when officers from the Islamic affairs department carried them away for burial at an undisclosed location.

The floors of several houses were splattered with blood, close to where the bodies were left, and no uniformed security personnel were seen in the areas yesterday as hundreds of families packed their household goods, including furniture, television sets and fridge, and left.

Several villagers said they recognised one of the dead men as a councillor from Pulau Sitangkai, in southern Philippines, who had often come to stay with relatives while the other two looked like local men.

Police are still hunting for other members of the group, who might have slipped out of Simunul as initial reports indicated that there were about a dozen or more from the group at the village.

The villagers mostly Suluks who fled the Moro civil war in southern Philippines in the 1970s and settled in Simunul, which included a refugee settlement of the UNHCR are believed to have maintained close family ties across the border.

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