Malaysian forces on Friday widened
their hunt for armed followers of a Philippine sultan who have been
staking a territorial claim in the eastern state of Sabah, police
"Our forces are moving forward to certain places," national police chief Inspector General Omar Ismail said in the Sabah town of Lahad Datu. "It is going well."
Some 52 Filipinos have died and 10 arrested in the area, 1,600 kilometres east of Kuala Lumpur, since fighting broke out last week, Ismail said. Eight Malaysian police officers have also been killed.
Sabah police chief Hamza Taib said 79 people suspected to have links with the sultan's followers have been detained. The suspects were from Lahad Datu and other places around Sabah, he added.
Abraham Idjirani, a spokesman for Philippine Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, said their forces were under "constant bombing" from Malaysian forces despite their offer for a ceasefire.
"Our forces are okay despite experiencing constant bombing by land, air and sea," he said in Manila. "They are still able to evade the bombs."
Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez said earlier Friday: "We are asking that our humanitarian mission be allowed to enter so we can check on the Filipinos. We want to visit the arrested Filipinos, treat those who might be wounded and see how to help them."
Philippine navy ships and a team of doctors, nurses and social workers were on standby in the southern Philippines province of Tawi-Tawi.
The crisis began on February 12 when more than 200 armed followers of Kiram set up camp in the village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu to assert their ancestral claim to Sabah.
The sultanate leased the land in 1878 to the British North Borneo Co, which passed it to Malaysia after it gained independence. Kuala Lumpur currently pays the sultan 5,300 ringgit (1,680 dollars) per year in token rent.
On Thursday, the sultan called a unilateral ceasefire, but Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the truce offer was not enough, and warned the offensive against the Filipino intruders would continue until they "lay down their arms unconditionally."
Nearly 100 non-government groups from Malaysia and the Philippines on Friday issued an appeal for an immediate end to violence in Sabah.
"We believe the situation in Lahad Datu requires swift and peaceful intervention," the organizations said. "We urge all parties to resist from using force while remaining committed to dialogue and negotiation throughout this process."
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