Malaysia Attacks Filipino Rebels With Jets and Mortars

MANILA – Malaysian forces used fighter jets and mortars, followed by a ground assault, on Tuesday to attack Filipino gunmen seeking to reclaim parts of northern Borneo Island for a defunct sultanate in the southern Philippines.

It was unclear how many of the nearly 200 Filipinos in the armed group were killed or wounded in the attack, but the Malaysian state news agency Bernama said no Malaysian forces were killed. It was also unclear if the assault had resolved the issue. 

“The government must take action to defend the country’s dignity and sovereignty as demanded by the people,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in announcing the attack. 

The incident began on Feb. 12 when members of the group came over on boats to the remote village of Lahad Datu in northeastern Malaysia. The group represented itself as a royal militia in service of the Sultanate of Sulu, an Islamic kingdom that for centuries ruled the southern Philippines and parts of what is now Sabah state in Malaysia. 

Under orders from a self-proclaimed sultan based in Manila, the armed group tried to resurrect the sultunate’s claim to the area despite pleas from both the Philippine and Malaysian governments that it return to the Philippines. 

Since the incursion, the Malaysian authorities have launched multiple assaults on the group, whose members had dispersed into neighboring villages, authorities said. More than 21 people have been killed in fighting in recent weeks related to the incident. 

The continuing violence in Sabah, which has escalated into one of the most serious security emergencies in recent Malaysian history, has strained relations between the two Southeast Asian allies. Late Monday, the Philippine secretary of foreign affairs, Alberto del Rosario, met with the Malaysian defense and foreign ministers in Kuala Lumpur in an attempt to lessen tensions.

Source: The New York Times