SEMPORNA - The firefight at Kampung Sri Jaya Simunul in Semporna has resulted in a total of 12 dead, says inspector-general of police Ismail Omar.
The police suffered six casualties, up one from what was initially reported, he told a press conference at Felda Sabahat Residence, Lahad Datu tonight.
"After our operation ended at 7pm today. We found another body of our police officer, so the total is six," he said.
Ismail added that police also discovered six other bodies whose identities could not be ascertained.
"We believe they are the bodies of the enemies," he said.
He added that the all of surviving 19 police officers who had gone into the village were also safely out of the village.
"We have gotten all of them out safely and they are now at the Semporna district police headquarters.
"With this latest development, the Semporna incident is over and the situation has returned to normal," he said.
Police were not trapped
The bodies of the killed police officers have also been recovered.
Ismail added that a criminal investigation team is now there to mop up the area and determine the identities of the unknown bodies.
Ismail insisted that at no stage were any police officers held hostage when asked if the 19 police survivors were trapped in the village.
"There are over 300 houses there, it's a very large area and we wanted to check house to house (that there were no other police officers left) before we made a statement on them," he said.
He added that the names of the police officers killed in action would be released only after all their families are notified.
Asked if one of the police officer killed was beheaded, Ismail replied: "The bodies have been brought to the hospital and I am waiting for the report, don't believe in rumours".
Biggest security crisis in years
This latest clash, described by AFP as Malaysia's biggest security crisis of recent years, occurred when police were "ambushed" by gunmen, Ismail told reporters this morning.
Semporna is 150km from Tanduo village, where an estimated 100-300 people have been encircled by Malaysian police and soldiers since landing by boat from the Philippines on Feb 12 to claim the area for their leader.
The 74-year-old Manila-based leader, Jamalul Kiram III, claims to be heir to the Islamic sultanate of Sulu, which once controlled parts of the southern Philippines and the modern-day Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island.
Malaysian officials called for calm but various reports painted a picture of chaos in the area.
It was not immediately made clear whether the Semporna attackers were still at large. Meanwhile, Ismail said police were pursuing yet another group of armed men in Kunak, another town in the region.
"I don't want speculation that Sabah is in crisis," Ismail told an earlier news conference. "We have our security forces at three places to respond."
The new incidents sparked Malaysian fears of a wider campaign by other intruders or their supporters in Sabah, which has large numbers of Filipino immigrants - both legal and illegal.
The Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur issued a statement urging calm among Filipinos. "We feel and understand the anxieties felt by many of you at these difficult times," it said.
"This is not the time to undertake any action that might be misunderstood by some parties."
The situation is delicate for the Southeast Asian neighbours.
Sabah crisis slap in the face for Najib
The Philippine government is looking to consolidate recent progress in mending fences with Islamic separatists in its partly Muslim south.
The government of Muslim-majority Malaysia, meanwhile, could face pressure at home if harsh action is taken against the Islamic Filipino intruders, which also could inflame Sabah's many Filipinos.
Following Friday's firefight Malaysian police threatened "drastic action" if they did not surrender.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino, who has sharply criticised the intruders, has also urged them to give up.
But Kiram's spokesman Abraham Idjirani repeated today his followers would not budge. He said the sultan would seek the intervention of the United States, which colonised the Philippines in the early 1900s.
"(Malaysians) want to hide the truth - that they do not own Sabah. It is owned by us," he said in an interview on Philippine radio.
Sabah state police chief Hamza Taib said several villagers in Semporna beat to death a man armed with a M-16 rifle who had gathered several people at a mosque on Sunday.
The sensational events have embarrassed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak - who must call elections by June - by exposing lax border security and fuelling perceptions of lawlessness and massive illegal immigration into Sabah.
If security in Sabah worsens, Najib could be forced to delay the election and he would be vulnerable to criticism over the government's handling of the problem.
Intrusion could be linked to Moro peace deal
Lim Kit Siang, a top opposition leader, said the government was not being forthcoming enough with information from Sabah and the police fatalities "could have been avoided if the whole situation had been properly handled".
The Sulu sultanate's power faded about a century ago but it has continued to receive nominal Malaysian payments for Sabah under a lease deal inherited from European colonial powers.
Kiram's people are demanding Malaysia recognise that the sultanate owns Sabah and share profits from economic development in the state.
According to Reuters, the trouble looks to be at least partly the result of efforts to forge peace in the southern Philippines, in particular a peace deal signed between the Philippine government
and Muslim rebels last October to end a 40-year conflict.
Jamalul Kiram, a former sultan of Sulu and brother of the man Philippine provincial authorities regard as sultan, said the peace deal had handed control of much of Sulu to Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, ignoring the sultanate.
The sultan loyalists had gone to Malaysia to revive their claim to Sabah as a protest in response to what they saw as the unfair peace deal, he said.
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