Sabah police chief Datuk Hamzah Taib said a team of policeman had gone to the island in search of several people after receiving reports that they possessed firearms.
“The policemen entered the village and were walking on the stilt boardwalk when they were fired upon and two of our men were injured,” Hamzah said as fear gripped people in Semporna and Tawau that a group of gunmen had attacked security forces.
Hamzah said that follow-up operations are ongoing.
“For now, we believe it is unrelated to the situation in Lahad Datu,” he said.
He denied that any police station had been attacked, after rumours of the gunfight spread through word of mouth and went viral on social network sites.
A police officer at the Semporna district headquarters told The Malaysian Insider the officer in charge was in a meeting with the military and declined to disclose further information.
“OCPD is in a meeting with the military, we cannot disclose any information about the attack for now... we are busy,” the policeman said. He declined to give his name.
The situation is tense in the east coast of Sabah after Malaysian security forces clashed with Sulu gunmen near Lahad Datu on Friday, killing two police commandos, 12 of the Filipinos and the owner of the house in which the rebel group were hiding.
Residents and workers contacted by The Malaysian Insider reported hearing gunshots in Semporna town shortly after sunset, between 7pm and 8pm.
A hotel receptionist who only identified herself as Nancy said she had heard gunshots in the direction of Kampung Simunul about 8pm.
A Semporna resident who only wanted to be known as Sarah related that her uncle herded the family home after hearing the burst of gunfire.
“We all rushed home. We don’t dare leave the house now,” the 53-year-old said over the phone.
She said she lived under one roof with five other families.
A Filipino Muslim clan claiming royal lineage from the Sulu sultanate had intruded into Sabah on February 9 staking ownership over parts of the Borneo state.
The armed group number some 200 people and insist they will not surrender their claim to the land, despite entreaties from the Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.
Putrajaya, which had earlier attempted to negotiate a peaceful resolution with the gunmen, have warned they will not hesitate to use violence against the group to get them to leave Sabah.