MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - Malaysian security forces launched fresh attacks on the more than 100 Filipino gunmen holed up in Tanduao, Lahad Datu and nearby villages in Sabah on Tuesday, March 5, deploying fighter jets and more troops to the area.
The assault forced villagers to flee their homes, Malaysian media reported.
"At 7 am this morning, our security forces have launched an attack (on the intruders)" in Tanduao, Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement.
A Malaysian reporter told Rappler explosions were heard.
The Star of Malaysia said fighter jets were seen circling the Feld Sahabat area at around 7 am, residents heard at least 4 explosions in Tanduao village in the Lahad Datu district and more than 300 residents of Tanjung Labian near Tanduao had to flee to a community hall.
Military trucks were also seen moving into the area, which is surrounded by palm oil estates, AFP reported.
Photo courtesy of Asean Military Defense Review site on Facebook
Efforts to prevent bloodshed 'failed' - Malaysia
Najib stressed that "the government must take action to defend the country's dignity and sovereignty as demanded by the people" and indicated that all efforts to prevent bloodshed had "failed."
"Since the intrusion by a group of gunmen in Lahad Datu on February 12, the government has taken an approach to resolve the conflict without any bloodshed. The police have arranged for meetings and discussions hoping that the intruders would agree to leave peacefully without facing serious action," the Malaysian leader said.
But as the crisis continued, "it was clear that the intruders had no intention to leave Sabah" and after the first attack on Friday, Najib insisted that "the intruders must surrender or we will act."
"As an Islamic country that loves peace and uphold the struggle to end conflicts through negotiations, our effort to prevent bloodshed in Lahad Datu failed. Our security forces were attacked and our men killed. Malaysians, especially in Sabah, are worried for their safety," the statement said.
AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN
Lockdown in Sabah
Late Monday, local media in Malaysia reported "heavy buildup" of security forces near the village, after the prime minister ordered heavier security in Sabah.
Najib vowed to beef up security in Sabah, where at least 27 people have been reported killed after a bizarre invasion by Philippine followers of one of the heirs of the former Sultan of Sulu.
The Malaysian leader, under pressure over Malaysia's worst security crisis in years, authorized a "doubling" of police and armed forces deployed in the tense state of Sabah on Borneo island.
The affair in Sabah has underlined instability and lawlessness in the seas between the two countries and exposed lax Malaysian security along its coast.
Photo by Benhur Arcayan / Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau
PH, Malaysia conspiracy theories
The Philippines on Monday asked Malaysia to exercise "maximum tolerance" in dealing with the supporters of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and President Benigno Aquino III suggested a conspiracy, explaining the gunmen could have not have pulled off the standoff on their own.
Aquino faced the media to renew his appeal for the followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to stand down, but he also said that the standoff was a result of a "conspiracy" of people whom he has refused to identify.
Malaysian news sites on Tuesday also reported that more "intruders" have been arriving by boat in the past few days, but this has yet to be confirmed by the government. - with reports from KD Suarez, Carlos Santamaria & Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com