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Malaysian security forces surround foreign gunmen in Lahad Datu

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said: "The group has been ordered to lay down their arms and surrender." -The Star/ANN
Mazwin Nik Anis, Muguntan Vanar, Ruben Sario and Edmond Ngo

Thu, Feb 14, 2013
The Star/Asia News Network

KOTA KINABALU - Malaysian security forces have surrounded a group of armed foreign fighters believed to have entered the east coast of Sabah. As at press time, the standoff is ongoing.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said: "The group has been ordered to lay down their arms and surrender."

He said the intrusion was related to problems in Southern Philippines.

The intruders had landed in Lahad Datu on Tuesday morning.

"The situation is under control, and the public need not worry,'' he said in a statement issued late last night.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi confirmed that the group had landed near a secluded area close to Lahad Datu on Tuesday.

"I have ordered Armed Forces chief Jen Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin to take immediate action together with the police," Dr Zahid Hamidi told reporters in Bagan Serai, Perak.

Dr Zahid Hamidi said immediate action was necessary to ensure the country's defence and security was at optimum level .

"We will seek cooperation from neighbouring countries," he added.

It is understood that military and police tactical units have been mobilised to find the armed group in the Tambisan area, a 45-minute speedboat ride from the southern Phi­lip­pine island of Bongao.

Talk of militants in about a dozen small boats attempting to land in Lahad Datu has been rife over the past two weeks.

Tambisan, a coastal area about 165km from Lahad Datu town, is a known illegal immigrant landing point and surrounded by plantations.

According to local residents, foreigners peddling cigarettes and other items on the streets of Lahad Datu had disappeared over the past few days.

The talk among the foreigners is that the fighters were unhappy over last year's Kuala Lumpur-brokered peace deal between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Manila.

High level sources, however, told The Star that the group were neither affiliated with MILF, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) nor the Abu Sayyaf group.

It is believed the armed men were "escorting a certain leader".

"We are still determining who they are and their motive for turning up at our shores," said the source.

The armed group is believed to have escaped to Sabah following a fierce battle between two rival groups, which ended in at least 22 deaths recently.

The residents also claimed to have seen military movement in the area.

Talk of militants in the vicinity has increased anxiety levels there.

"We have heard of militant presence in the area off and on for the past few years. We are worried," said former Felda Residence Hotel manager Azhar Sanusi.

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