Sulu group cornered within smaller area after shootout
FELDA SAHABAT 17 (Lahad Datu): Security forces have locked down all of Felda Sahabat 17 after a tense morning which saw 12 Sulu gunmen and two police commandos killed in a shootout.
Three policemen, who were injured, were airlifted to Lahad Datu and Sandakan hospitals. One of them is reported to be in critical condition.
The two dead policemen were identified as Insp Zulkifli Mamat (pic) and Kpl Sabaruddin Daud.
The casualty figures among the Sulu gunmen are vague although their leader Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, who is believed to be injured, had claimed that 10 of his men were dead and four were injured before his cellphone went dead.
Police have recovered two M16 rifles, two semi-automatic rifles and two pistols as well as ammunition for grenade launchers and a bag of clothes near where the gunfight occurred.
At nightfall, Malaysian security forces closed in on their position, holding their fire but awaiting their next tactical move to regain Tanduo after the Government decided that it would no longer tolerate the intrusion by Azzimudie and his 180-or-so followers, including 30 gunmen.
They had entered the state on Feb 9 before the standoff began on Feb 12.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib told reporters at 6pm yesterday that the skirmish occurred at 10am and lasted between 20 and 30 minutes.
“Our police force entered Kg Tanduo to tighten the cordon around the areas after a recce mission a few days ago.
“This morning (Friday), we re-entered the cordon area and our personnel encountered a group of the intruders.
“They fired at our personnel and our forces had to return fire,” he said, adding that police had yet to ascertain who among the Sulu group were killed or injured as the bodies of the dead Sulu gunmen were still on site in Tanduo.
Asked if any local villager still with the group was hit, he said police could not ascertain the matter.
“We have tightened our (sea and land) cordon around the Felda Sahabat scheme and the intruders are now cornered within a smaller area,” he said, adding that police did not believe anyone had escaped the cordon.
Denying claims that gunfire and sniping was continuing, he said none of the Sulu intruders had surrendered.
Asked about reports that armed groups from southern Philippines were trying to enter Sabah waters to back Azzimudie’s group, Hamza said: “We have checked and found the reports to be untrue. Our security at the sea border is tight and our operations are continuing.”
Yesterday’s skirmish was the first direct firefight after a 17-day standoff. However, security forces had a close encounter with the Sulu group on Wednesday when they threatened six of the GOF personnel near the cordon around the village.
Hamza said the Government had earlier ordered security forces to discuss and negotiate with the Sulu intruders to surrender.
“But these intruders were stubborn. This placed the police in a position where there was little else we could do.
“From the early stages, we talked to them and even provided them food but they remained stubborn. We were put in a position where we had to react,” said Hamza.
Although the negotiations dragged on, the Government had patiently kept its resolve to end the standoff without bloodshed but Azzimudie remained defiant, claiming that he would only take orders from his brother Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
The Sulu group persisted in staying on in Tanduo to press for their so-called ancestral claims on Sabah despite the extension of several deadlines in the hope of a peaceful settlement.