All that suddenly changed on February 11th 2013, when a band of militants loyal to a so-called claimant to the title of the Sultan of Sulu, took over a village called Kampung Tanduo, expelled the villagers and began a standoff with Royal Malaysian Police forces, and then with Army Units. They claimed an ancient, feudal right of rule that had not been practised for centuries, especially as authority over Sabah has changed among so many hands since then.
After three weeks while negotiations were ongoing, clashes suddenly occurred resulting in the killing of 8 members of the security forces.
On 5th March, the Prime Minister ordered a combined arms assault. It began with LGBs dropped from Hornet fighter-bombers, with Hawk fighter-bombers providing cover. After mortar fire, the Army and Police Special Forces units in Condor APCs moved into the village. The surviving terrorists have dispersed, and are being hunted as of posting time.
Updated reports can be obtained from these newspapers:
The Straits Times
There is a Wikipedia page too:
The area where this is occurring is as far away from Langkawi as you can get- it right is at the easternmost tip of Malaysia, at the eastern edge of Sabah state. This borders the Filipino provinces of Sulu and Mindanao, which for years has known bloodshed, lawlessness, civil war and atrocities. Finally, a peace deal is about to be signed. One man (below) is less than happy.
The leader of the terrorists is the self-styled Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, who lives in Manila. It seems he will not be one of the winners after peace is declared in the Southern Philippines.
Even his right to be called the Sultan of Sulu is disputed among his relatives, who also claim that throne:
Here are stories of firefights between the security forces and the terrorists:
I presume that with that kind of experience, the Rules of Engagement will surely change. I think now, whoever pours in the most lethal firepower on positive sighting will survive first contact.
The problem is that the terrorists have also killed members of the security forces after faking a surrender under a white flag- this report pertaining to an action on 1st March:
The following article is by Wong Chun Wai, Chief Editor of The Star, published today:
It contains a shocking passage, confirming the White Flag incident on 1st March, and also shedding light on how 6 policemen were killed on 3rd March:
"The team of six Malaysian policemen which walked into a group of 30 intruders, which had used a white flag as a ruse, were surrounded and shot at by two snipers. Two of the Malaysians died.
About 130km away, where the Semporna water village is located, there are at least 300 homes on stilts and some have been suspected to provide support for these terrorists, who killed six other Malaysian security personnel in another encounter.
These Filipinos showed no mercy, beheading two of our men, and carrying out extremely cruel, gruesome acts on our men before killing them. They also gouged out the eyes of one of their victims."
I was stunned speechless when I read it today in the paper. There had been rumours in the blogosphere, but this was official confirmation. It seemed that this mediaeval barbarism was what prompted the Prime Minister to issue the orders for the joint operations to proceed. The Geneva Agreement seems not to have crossed the minds of the enemy combatants, and will prompt members of the security forces to fight to the death rather than risk capture. The current military operations come under Ops Daulat (Operation Sovereignity).
The area around Semporna is beautiful, including the oceanic island of Sipadan, which is one of the most spectacular dive sites in the world. It is also an amazing site for photography; the Canon team organises photo tours out there, and had not LIMA been held in March , I was considering joining a tour in April.
I support fully the efforts of the security forces in ridding the area of these fearsome and brutal terrorists, who have brought the horrors of the Mindanao war into Sabah. May the members of our security forces make it home to their loved ones safely and swiftly.
I think the people most shocked are the local Suluk community in Sabah, who never would have thought their kin would intrude thus into their peaceful way of life. For decades, border and immigration clearance really did not exist, as they travelled back and forth between the island chain as though a localised Schengen Agreement was in force there.
But I think that freedom will now be curtailed, as a result of this incursion. The visitors are no longer peaceful, and have brought death and destruction in their wake.
This incursion seems like a throwback to the world as it was in the 18th century, when the Divine Right of Kings still had some currency. It seems difficult to see how this bizarre incursion will end well for the terrorists. The military forces tracking them will now give no quarter, and under Malaysian criminal law, possession of firearms and ammunition is a capital offence. Killing policemen (and torturing them prior) merits the same sentence.
This incident really brings home the necessity of strong airpower in defence of the defenceless. I think the requirements by the Malaysian Armed Forces for littoral patrol vessels and maritime surveillance aircraft just increased significantly.