Lahad Datu (The Star/ANN) - As the stand-off between Malaysian security forces and an armed Sulu group here enters its third week, expectations are rising for an end to the drama within the next 72 hours.
Malaysian forces are holding their ground less then 500m away from the Tanduo village where the group has been holed up since February 9.
A Philippines ship is expected about noon Monday to help evacuate the civilians and five women in the group of about 180, seen as a sign that group leader Azzimudie Kiram is prepared to leave the village.
According to the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs, the vessel which arrived in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi before midnight yesterday, will stand by off Lahad Datu as Malaysian authorities negotiate through emissaries and Manila holds talks with the family of Sultan Jamalul Kiram.
Manila officials have stated that they were using Esmail, a brother of Jamalul, to convince the group to return home.
The Sulu group, with about 30 gunmen reported to be in its ranks, has also run out of food supplies in Tanduo village because of a total blockade enforced on land and sea.
There were also reports of dissent in the group, with several of Azimmudie's followers wanting to return to southern Philippines.