DIGOS CITY – Seven people – five Malaysian policemen and two Sulu gunmen – were killed in a fresh clash in Semporna in Tawau district in Sabah, the Malaysian media quoted Malaysian police as saying on Sunday.
Ismail Omar, Malaysian police inspector general, was quoted by Bernama news agency as saying that the new fatalities brought to 21 the total number of combatants killed since Putrajaya decided to take on forces of the so-called Sulu “royal army,” following three weeks of stand-off in Lahad Datu.
On Friday, 14 people, including two members of the Malaysian police’s elite VAT69 (commando unit), were also killed when Malaysian security forces stormed the encampment of the “Sulu intruders” on Felda Sahabat 17 in Tanduo town.
Ismail later told reporters during a noontime news conference aired by a shortwave station based in Tawau, whose broadcast was monitored here, that when reports came in that remnants or supporters of Agbimuddin Kiram had been sighted in Semporna, some 150 kilometers from Lahad Datu, Malaysian security forces were immediately deployed there on Saturday afternoon.
Bernama quoted Ismail as saying the 8 p.m. incident in Siminul village took place as Malaysian security forces were also verifying reports that some people in the village, where many Filipinos live, possessed firearms.
“The five ill-fated personnel were tasked to conduct ground assessment when fired upon as they approached a house in Kampung Simunul,” he said, adding that the policemen managed to fire back and had killed two of the gunmen.
“Two of the intruders were also killed and we are still after their companions,” Omar said.
Hamza Taib, Sabah police commissioner, said during an earlier news conference also broadcast by a Sabah shortwave station that some 40 policemen were sent to Semporna following reports that some armed men had been sighted there on Saturday.
He said the Semporna operation began around 4 p.m. and while police were heading for Siminul, a group of men numbering not more 10 fired on them.
Hamza said members of the Malaysian police were approaching a house in Siminul when they were fired upon by the unidentified men, using automatic rifles.
Ismail said some areas in Lahad Datu, Semporna and Kunal, were now being closely watched because armed men had been monitored there in the aftermath of the Lahad Datu clashes on Friday.
Ismail said in fact, armed men had already been sighted in two villages of Kunak as Agbimuddin’s forces tried to evade the manhunt staged by Malaysian security forces.
“Ten foreigners with three in camouflage uniforms and arms are currently hiding in one of the houses in Kunak,” he said.
As this developed, Ismail said three more “intruders” were arrested as they were sneaking out of Tanduo in Lahad Datu.
Hamza said the situation in Semporna remains under control despite the incident and that no further incidents had taken place after the ambush.
Earlier, reports had it that an explosion also rocked the Pulau Bum Bum police station in the town but Hamza said these were without basis.
“The police had encircled the village in hunt of the attackers,” the newspaper Borneo Insider quoted Hamza in a separate report.
Ismail said the Malaysian authorities had not restricted movements of people within Sabah despite the series of violence.
He said Sabahans had been advised to remain calm and refrain from believing unverified stories.
“Only statements from me should be taken as fact,” Ismail said.