Thu, 14 Feb 2013 01:55:21 GMT | By Courtesy of Alexander Chen, The Borneo Insider

Sabah villagers held hostage by militants

An unknown number of villagers on an island close to the Sabah-Philippines sea border are being held hostage by a group of armed foreigners since Tuesday.



LAHAD DATU: An unknown number of villagers on an island close to the Sabah-Philippines sea border are being held hostage by a group of armed foreigners since Tuesday. The situation is still very much hazy though Malaysian security forces claim they are aware of what is happening and have surrounded the area when the intruders are said to be holing up. And from what we have gathered, an even large group of these intruders, who are said to be stronger and more dangerous, are on its way to the island as reinforcements.

UPDATED: Malaysian security forces have surrounded the foreigners for encroaching into the waters off Lahad Datu, Sabah. More than 100 members of the group are suspected to be members of a militant group from southern Philippines

Sources told THE BORNEO INSIDER that the island is named Pulau Lukiau, an otherwise unheard of island amongst many islands that dot the Celebes Seas between southern Philippines or what is now known as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Sabah’s east coast. However, we could not get any of the top brass in the security forces; that is the police in Sabah nor the Commander of the Fifth Brigade which is based at Lok Kawi, to confirm what we have heard. However, Sabah police chief Datuk Hamza Taib said Wednesday night that he may schedule a Press conference Thursday to provide details, if any. Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar was quoted as saying that the armed intruders are believed to be from the Philippines.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi said he had ordered Armed Forces chief Jen Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin to take immediate action together with the police over the matter. Said our source: “This little heard island (which is closer to Tambisan) is very far away from Lahad Datu town, probably takes five or six hours to reach the town. “The kampong people (on the island) are being held hostage in the mosque. We do not know how many people are being held and neither do we know how many armed men there are at this moment.”

Bernama quoted Ismail as saying that security forces close to the area had directed the intruders to put down their weapons and surrender, but till Press time (2.00am Thursday) nothing was forthcoming. Ismail said the intrusion was related to problems in southern Philippines and that the situation is under control. “The public need not be unduly worried," he added in a statement.

Earlier, in another Bernama report, Ahmad Zahid said security forces have detained a group of foreigners for posing as military personnel off Sabah on Tuesday. He said the foreigners were dressed in military uniform and robes were trying to encroach into Malaysian waters off Lahad Datu. “The Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM) had been directed to work closely with the police and take immediate action. "We don't want our national defence elements to be exposed, including in Lahad Datu, Sabah," he told reporters, adding that Malaysia will seek cooperation from neighbouring countries. Ahmad Zahid said it was also to ensure that action was taken immediately to keep the national defence and security at high level.

THE BORNEO INSIDER sources also inform us that the intruders could be a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF) or the dreaded Abu Sayyaf. Tambisan, is a coastal area located 165km from Lahad Datu. The main economic activity here is oil palm plantations. It is also a 45-minute speed boat ride from the Philippine island of Bongao. In November last year, two cousins - an estate manager and a supervisor - were abducted by armed men while visting a birds nest structure at their oil palm plantation in the Tambisan area. The two only by the surname of Tung were believed taken to Southern Philippines. Talks of militants in about a dozen small boats attempting to land in Lahad Datuu have been rife for the past two weeks.

Wednesday evening and night, Lahad Datu town was almost deserted as people opted to stay indoors, with the heavy presence of security forces in town being a cause of concern. The news rekindled a tragic incident in September 1985 when 11 people were killed and several injured after armed men dressed in military fatigues fired randomly at the public before robbing RM200,000 from a Standard Chartered Bank branch and Malaysia Airlines office in Lahad Datu.

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