Philippines Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II said Malaysian authorities issued 'warning shots' because some members of the group had violated their security cordon.
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian security forces opened fire at the over 200 Sulu army soldiers holed up at the Felda Sahabat oil plam plantations in Lahad Datu, Sabah, here at around noon today.
A flurry of text messages from FMT correspondents in Lahad Datu also confirmed the shootout.
Unconfirmed reports claimed that 10 of the armed group were killed while four Malaysian security forces were injured.
FMT ground reports said several Malaysian security personnel, some seriously injured, have been rushed to Lahad Datu hospital. Some locals living in the area have said they have seen bodies being moved out.
As of 10am this morning all shops, banks and schools have been ordered to shut down.
Lahad Datu has come to a standstill with long lines of vehicles stuck from all the main routes into town.
Unconfirmed reports also said that all flights into Sabah have been cancelled.
People in Lahad Datu town have expressed concern. Those staying at Kampung Panji, near the town centre, say they are worried that those associated with the group may direct attacks along the east coast including in Semporna and Lahad Datu town where the Suluks have a strong (overwhelming) presence.
But Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, when confirming the incident, said Malaysian security forces did not fire any shots at the intruders.
“I confirm that our security forces did not fire a single shot but were shot at about 10am this morning!,” he said in his tweet, without mentioning whether an operation was underway to detain the armed intruders.
Hishammuddin later told reporters that the Malaysian government had given the group of about 150 intruders enough time to retreat and return to their own country.
Malaysia had also practised diplomacy and patience to provide the group with all avenues, including through negotiations, to urge them to end the standoff and return.
“I want to remind the group who encroached into Sabah to refrain from saying that the Malaysian government did not give enough time to retreat. We have been very accommodative and diplomatic in our approach to end the crisis,” he told reporters meeting Pergerakan Pemuda Malaysia Palestin at the Civil Defence Department.
Security cordon violated
Ambassador to the Philippines Mohd Zamri Mohd Kassim confirmed that gunshots were fired in Lahad Datu, where the royal army of the sultanate is holed up.
Zamri reportedly told a spokesman for the Philipines Department of Foreign Affairs assistant secretary Raul Hernandez that there were no casualties in the incident.
Quoting a statement from Kassim to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Hernandez said: “There were no casualties and that the firing had already stopped.”
In earlier reports, Philippines Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II noted that warning shots had reportedly been fired because some members of the group had violated their security cordon.
Meanwhile, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, while appealing for a peaceful resolution to the stand-off which reached its fourth week on Sunday, has also denied Philippines radio reports that several people were killed in the attack.
He also dismissed reports that his brother crown prince Raja Agbimuddin Kiram, who is leading the charge in Lahad Datu, was arrested by the Malaysian authorities.
“Hindi ako naniniwala. Mahuhuli lang yan kapag patay na (I don’t believe it. He will only be caught if he’s dead),” said Kiram in an interview with Philippines radiobzz.
Meanwhile, Kiram’s spokesmen Abraham Idjirani said in Manila that Agbimuddin had informed them of the rising tension at 6am.
“This morning is a history, the Malaysian security forces started the first shot,” Idjirani said, adding that he was uncertain if the authorties were aiming at Agbimuddin. Historical links
Agbimuddin and some 200 soldiers from the Sulu Sultanate headed by Kiram III have been holed up in Felda Sahabat oil palm plantation since Feb 11.
The group claimed ownership of Sabah, citing historical links between the state and the Sulu Sultanate before the arrival of British in the Malay archipelago.
Meanwhile, online news blog, phillstar.com, also quoting Idjirani, said the Sulu sultanate reiterated its stand to the Malaysian authorties that it had no intention of creating trouble in Sabah.
“We are hoping na sana matigil na [we are hoping that the firefight will stop], we want a peaceful resolution.
“However, if the Malaysian authorities will push for action, then the Sultanate followers there have no recourse but to defend themselves to their last breath,” Idjirani said.
Also reporting on the same incident YahooNews group quoted Agbimuddin’s interview over radiodzBB this morning following the attack.
Said Agbimuddin: “”Biglang pumasok sa amin [they came in all of a sudden], we had to defend ourselves. Tuloy pa rin [we will keep on fighting].”
President Benigno Aquino III had on Tuesday ordered Kiram to ask his followers to pull back.
“Mercy ships” have also been sent to Sabah to convince members of the the group, some of them armed, to return home.