DIGOS CITY, Philippines—The Malaysian government’s Operasi Daulat (operation sovereignty) is coming to a close after a few more days as the object of the operations have now been nearly wiped, a top police officer in Sabah said Saturday.
Speaking over a Sabah-based radio, whose broadcast was monitored here, Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib said as Ops Daulat entered its 25th day on Saturday, the number of “Sulu terrorists” had significantly dropped to less than 10 from over 200 prior to March 5.
“They were either killed or captured,” Hamza said.
The latest to be killed, Hamza said, was a “60-year-old terrorist” who tried to hack a member of the Malaysian police during a search in Simunul in the Semporna district on Thursday.
On the same day, a brief clash also took place in Lahad Datu, he said.
Hamza told the Sabah radio station that the man’s identity had not been fully established but initial investigation showed he was “the bodyguard and an aide to [another] Sulu terrorist, known as ‘Imam Tua’.”
‘Imam Tua’ was among those killed in a clash that followed an alleged attack by followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram’s so-called ‘royal army” in Semporna in which six Malaysian policemen were killed.
The Malaysian government said since the launching of Ops Daulat on March 5, an operation that involved Malaysian Air Force jets dropping bombs on an area in Felda Sahabat 17 while 5,000 ground troops backed by armored personnel carriers combed nearby areas, 68 “Sulu terrorists” had been killed and 121 people detained under the Security Offenses Act and Special Measures or Sosma.
“I can’t say that there are no more terrorists. I believe they still exist but their number is small, probably less than 10,” the state-run Berita Nasional Malaysia or Bernama quoted Hamza as telling journalists during an earlier press conference in Lahad Datu.
Hamza said the sweep has also succeeded in freeing three villages—Tanduo, Tanjung Batu and Tanjung Labian— of “terrorists.”
He said the remaining Sulu gunmen had broken into smaller groups of “probably two persons” and were possibly hiding in the areas of Tanjung Bilis and Lok Buani.
Hamza, still speaking over the Sabah radio station, said as Ops Daulat was coming to an end, residents of Tanjung Labian “would be allowed to return.”
But Tungku district Assemblyman Mohamad Suhaili Said revealed that the Malaysian government has decided to permanently shut down Tanduo, a seaside village of 15 houses, and that residents would be resettled on a 121-hectare area in the adjacent village of Sungai Merah.
Tanduo was the site of the bloodiest battles between Malaysian security forces and the Sulu gunmen, led by Kiram’s younger brother Agbimuddin Kiram, who landed in a village in Lahad Datu on Februay 19 to assert the Sulu sultanate’s claim to Sabah.
“Tanduo is now part of the Eastern Sabah Safety Zone,” Mohamad Suhaili, speaking in a news conference, said in explaining the decision.
The New Straits Times, quoting another official, said Tanduo will be turned into a “tourism” area.
“The beach is beautiful,” the newspaper’s website quoted Lahad Datu district officer Zulkifli Nasir as saying.
Zulkifli, NST said, even added that “if everything goes well, tenders will be issued out soon to invite potential investors to develop the area.”