DIGOS CITY, Philippines—Malaysian aircraft took to the skies over Lahad Datu anew starting around 8:40 a.m. Thursday as ground forces advanced deeper into the Tanduo area in search of the members of the so-called “royal army” of the heirs of the old sultanate of Sulu.
Malaysian police Inspector General Ismail Omar said over a Sandakan radio station that the Malaysian aircraft, including F18s, were on an aerial survey mission, following the reported sighting of a group of armed men in Kampung Batu, near Tanduo.
The village, The New Straits Times reported, was eight villages away from Kampung Fajar Harapan, where Lahad Datu evacuees had sought safety.
Ismail would also not say how many jets were involved but confirmed that these were the same aircraft involved in Tuesday’s bomb run in Tanduo, where 13 bodies of suspected Sulu gunmen under the leadership of Agbimuddin Kiram, have been dug up in mopping-up operations by Malaysian security forces.
A reporter of the Sandakan radio station, who said he was stationed in Felda Sahabat 16 in Lahad Datu, some 20 kilometers from the target of the aerial bombing, said he observed that seven jets would pass over him at intervals of about four minutes.
“But there have been no bombs dropped yet,” the reporter said.
Ismail said that aside from the reconnaissance flights, the Malaysian Navy was continuing patrols off Lahad Datu and the areas of Semporna and Kunak.
He said security forces were scattered everywhere and new checkpoints had been setup.
The renewed activities of the Malaysian security forces, which had a lull on Wednesday, occurred as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a call for an end to the violence.
In Semporna, Malaysia, the widow of one of the policemen killed in the violence in Sabah also called for an end to the bloodshed.
“Enough with the bloodshed already. Please, let this end now,” Siti Banddorah Mahali, wife of slain Malaysian police officer Sarjan Abd Azis Sarikon, said in an interview on another Sabah radio station, whose broadcast was also monitored here, on Wednesday.
Mahali said the continuing operation endangered the lives of more security forces and Sulu gunmen and that their deaths could become unbearable for their families.
She cited her husband’s death, adding that his demise had become agonizing to her and their four children.
“The loss of my husband is very painful for us and the family of the other policemen, who were also killed. I do not want the others to experience the same,” Mahali said.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was to visit Felda Sahabat Thursday in an apparent bid to boost the Malaysian troops’ morale.
A statement issued by the Ops Daulat media center in Felda Sahabat said Najib was “to look into the logistic, facilities and the welfare of Malaysian security forces.”
As Malaysian security forces continue to comb the Lahad Datu areas for remnants of what Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi termed “routed terrorists,” the New Straits Times reported that “dozens of suspected sympathizers of the so-called Sulu gunmen have been detained for questioning by police over the past fortnight.”
Among those arrested were people related to the Kirams, some “uniformed personnel and local politicians.”
A Kiram relative in Lahad Datu was also being hunted down for his alleged role in the crisis, the New Straits Times said, without citing sources.
Malaysian authorities have admitted that Agbimuddin Kiram lived in Sabah and even served as assistant district officer of Kudat in the northern tip of Sabah in the early 1970s.
He has relatives living in Lahad Datu, Semporna and Sandakan.