Digos (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - A total of 12 combatants-six Malaysian policemen and six members of the Sulu "royal army"-were confirmed killed following Saturday evening's ambush-cum-clash in Semporna, Malaysian police Inspector General Ismail Omar confirmed.
In a news conference aired over a Sabah-based shortwave radio station, Ismail said all 12 cadavers had been recovered as of 6:30pm. Sunday following mopping-up operations in Simunul.
"During the operation, we also found six other bodies, believed to be the gunmen," he reported.
Nineteen other policemen, who were trapped in an area during the ambush-cum-clash, had also been successfully rescued, he said.
Ismail did not identify the slain policemen but confirmed that some of them held junior and senior ranks.
Since violence broke out in Sabah following Putrajaya's decision to take on the group of Agbimuddin Kiram, which Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak calls "intruders," 24 combatants had already been killed-eight of them Malaysian policemen.
The death toll in the Sabah violence could still increase as more Malaysian security forces arrive in at least three areas-Lahad Datu, Semporna and Kunak-and hunt down the "intruders," according to Malaysia's deputy prime minister.
"More fatalities may be expected, and as a nation we must come together to rally behind our forces," Liew Vui Keong was quoted by state media Bernama as saying.
Malaysia Armed Forces chief General Zulkefli Mohammad Zin had admitted the Sabah situation was "delicate," according to a report carried by the Borneo Insider.
Zulkefli said this was the reason why the military decided on deploying two army battalions.
Amid the heavy deployment of Malaysian security against the Sulu "royal army" number just over 200, Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said Putrajaya would try its best "to avoid (more) bloodshed."
"It's already happening (deaths from both sides) but what is certain is the police and the military try to avoid more casualties," he said during a visit to Membakut, which is also an area in Sabah.
Anifah, commenting on Sultan Jamalul Kiram III's call for negotiations, said what Putrajaya wants now is for the "intruders" to lay down their firearms before fresh talks could take place.
He, however, clarified that Wisma Putra, the other name the foreign affairs ministry is known, was not the correct agency to negotiate with the Kirams.
"My ministry is not directly involved. It is the Ministry of Home Affairs," he said.
Meanwhile, the Islamist political party Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) asked the Najib government to provide Malaysians with "a real explanation of the incident in Lahad Datu."
Mustafa Ali, PAS secretary general, said the problem has now become serious with people getting killed.
"It should not be regarded as a thing that is not serious but the government is not even telling us the truth," he told Malaysian newspaper Haraka Daily.
Mustafa also said because the Sabah situation has become so serious, police elements should already be withdrawn and that the military should now take over.