Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian police said on Saturday that they had detained 79 suspects linked to Filipino intruders in Borneo as they intensify an operation to flush out members of a Filipino Muslim clan who took over a village last month.
The armed clansmen have caused political havoc for Malaysia and the neighbouring Philippines by trying to stake a long-dormant royal territorial claim to Malaysia`s sprawling, resource-rich state of Sabah in Borneo.
Most of the Filipinos eluded capture in a coastal Sabah district filled with palm oil plantations and forested hills after Malaysian forces attacked them with airstrikes and mortar fire on Tuesday.
National police chief Ismail Omar said 79 men and women, held without trial under a security law, were being investigated for their links to the gunmen.
He said they were detained outside the conflict zone but didn`t give further details. The detainees are believed to be informants or food suppliers to the gunmen, but it`s unclear if they were Malaysians or Filipino nationals.
Ismail said a Filipino gunman was killed today after he tried to escape a police cordon, raising the death toll in the conflict to 61.
The clansmen are led by a brother of Jamalul Kiram III, who claims to be the sultan, or hereditary ruler, of the southern, predominantly Muslim province of Sulu in the Philippines. Malaysia`s government has rejected a call by Kiram for a cease-fire and urged the gunmen to surrender unconditionally.