LAHAD DATU, It is not yet mission accomplished for the security forces in their operation against Sulu gunmen occupying Kampung Tanduo here as the militants are still holed up there, Tan Sri Ismail Omar said today.
The Inspector-General of Police also denied Philippine media reports of gunmen’s bodies being desecrated, or of casualties among the Malaysian security forces.
“I believe the enemies are still out there,” Ismail (picture) told reporters here today.
“We are still at the mopping and search stage. This is being done at a large area, about four square kilometres,” he added.
The armed forces launched air strikes at the followers of the Sulu sultanate hiding out at Kampung Tanduo early this morning, with five battalions sent in together with the police force.
The self-proclaimed Sulu royal family, however, has reportedly said that the militant group in the Sabah seaside village is still “alive & kicking”.
Ismail stressed that he had yet to receive reports of casualties among the southern Filipino gunmen in Kampung Tanduo that are estimated at 200.
“The security forces’ movements are rather slow now. Our priority is the safety of those who are on duty,” he said.
The top cop said earlier today that no Malaysian civilians or members of security forces were killed or injured in today’s assault against the Sulu militants.
Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also said earlier there was no evidence that Malaysia-trained fighters from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) would join their Filipino Muslim militant counterparts in their battle to reclaim Sabah.
The Manila Bulletin today reported Hadji Acmad Bayam, a former chief propagandist of the separatist group, as saying that the MNLF had hidden an arsenal deep in Sabah’s rugged terrain before they returned home after their rigid training, adding he was confident the authorities would not be able to find the firearms.
Acmad was reported to have stayed in Sabah for nearly a decade, from 1976 to 1986, before yielding to then Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos.
The former militant leader told the Philippine paper that many of the seasoned rebel commanders and rank-and-file members had chosen to stay back in Sabah.
Most of them were from Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and the Zamboanga peninsula on the Philippines south, he said, adding that the MNLF men also included those from Maguindanao, Irano and Maranao.
Philippine Star reported today that the Philippine police prevented almost 70 supporters of the Sulu sultanate from leaving Mindanao to join the militants here.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer also reported today that two search-and-rescue vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard are on stand-by to evacuate Filipinos in Sabah, following the clashes in three districts of eastern Sabah that have killed 28 – eight Malaysian policemen and 20 Filipino gunmen.
The Filipinos who invaded Lahad Datu on February 9 are led by a brother of self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, who insists that Sabah belongs to Sulu based on colonial documents from the late 19th century.
Malaysia, however, says that the token annual payment of RM5,300 is given to the sultanate not as rent but for the sultanate to cede its rights over the land, which has been part of Malaysia for decades.
Some Sabahans have expressed anger at Filipinos whom they say are robbing them of job opportunities, while others have warned against stereotyping them.
More than a quarter of Sabah’s population are foreigners, totalling a staggering 889,000 of the 3.2 million-strong population, or about 28 per cent, based on a 2010 census.
There are about 800,000 Filipinos throughout Malaysia, most of whom are working in Sabah, according to Philippine media quoting government data.