KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 14, 2013 (AFP) — Malaysia’s government said Thursday that its security forces have surrounded dozens of suspected Philippine militants in a remote area with a history of incursions by armed Filipino Islamic groups.
About 80-100 gunmen had been cornered in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters.
He said security forces were negotiating with the men near the small coastal town of Lahad Datu.
“We know the situation is still under control. I confirm that no Malaysian citizens, to my knowledge, are being held hostage or for ransom,” Hishammuddin said.
“Security forces are still in control and negotiating with them, some of whom are armed.”
He declined to confirm that the gunmen were from the adjacent southern Philippines.
But asked whether Philippine authorities were involved in negotiations, Hishammuddin said: “Of course they will have to be involved in the operations.”
National police chief Ismail Omar had said in a statement late Wednesday that “the intrusion is a result of the problems in the southern Philippines”.
That was an apparent reference to Muslim militants and other lawlessness in the southern Philippines, which lies just across the Sulu Sea from Sabah.
Malaysia is predominantly Muslim.
Earlier Thursday Prime Minister Najib Razak was quoted by The Star newspaper as saying police were negotiating with the gunmen “to get the group to leave peacefully to prevent bloodshed”.
“We have surrounded the area and our police and armed forces have the ability to handle the matter,” he was quoted as saying.
The Star’s report added that a tight security ring including army and naval forces had been thrown around the “heavily armed” group.
Letting jihadists leave peacefully won’t handle the matter.
Meanwhile, the president of the Philippines is giving jihadists their own region, and handing out jobs, health insurance, and scholarships as a reward.