14 March 2013

Philippines Detains ‘Militants’ Trying To Flee Sabah

MANILA: The Philippines Navy said it had detained 35 suspected Filipino militants yesterday as they sought to sail home from a military offensive against them in Sabah.

They are believed to be remnants of a band of up to 300 followers of a self-proclaimed Filipino sultan who entered Sabah a month ago to stake a territorial claim on the area, regional military chief Rey Ardo said.

“They were coming back (home) … they are armed,” Lieutenant-General Ardo said on ABS-CBN television, confirming less detailed reports of their arrest by the Philippines Navy.

The self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu vowed his men would not leave until Malaysia recognised their territorial claims.

However, after a stand-off that lasted more than two weeks, Malaysian security forces launched a major operation against the gunmen.

The 35 people detained yesterday were on two small boats that were intercepted by two navy patrol vessels on the Philippines side of the sea border with Malaysia, navy spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Gregory Fabic told AFP.

They were sailing to a Philippine island about 60 kilometres from the area of Sabah at the heart of the security offensive, according to Ardo, the regional military commander.

Fabic and Ardo said there were 34 men and one woman aboard the boats, both of which carried guns.

Ardo said one of the men was wounded, possibly from the Sabah clashes. - AFP

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