FELDA SAHABAT, Malaysia (2nd UPDATE) - Malaysia's defense minister on Thursday, March 7, rejected a ceasefire offer by a self-styled Philippine sultan unless his fighters who launched a deadly incursion "surrender unconditionally."
"A unilateral ceasefire is not accepted by Malaysia unless the militants surrender unconditionally," Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on his Twitter feed.
Jgn percaya dgn tawaran gencatan senjata oleh Jamalul Kiram. Demi kepentingn rakyat Sabah&seluruh rakyat Msia, hapuskan dulu semua militan — Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (@Zahid_Hamidi) March 7, 2013
Self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III had declared a unilateral ceasefire for 12:30 pm (0430 GMT), calling for reciprocation from Malaysia, whose armed forces are currently on the hunt for the invaders in a remote corner of Borneo island.
Kiram sent his followers from their southern Philippine island homes across the Sulu Sea to assert an ancestral claim to the Malaysian state of Sabah, located on Borneo's northern tip.
At least 28 people -- 20 militants and eight police officers -- have been reported killed since an initial standoff began more than three weeks ago in the sleepy farming village of Tanduo.
Zahid added: "Don't believe the ceasefire offer by Jamalul Kiram. In the interest of Sabahans and all Malaysians, wipe out all the militants first.
AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN
No unilateral ceasefire - Malaysian PM
In a televised press conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak later confirmed that his government would not accept the ceasefire announced by the sultan.
Najib, who is visiting the conflict zone, said he had talked to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and told him the militants should surrender.
Sabahans, the Malaysian leader reiterated, already voted to join the Malaysian Federation in 1962.
Najib also said that a "special security area" with 5 additional police and military battalions will be established in the east coast of Sabah while the standoff continues.
The area will cover Kunak, Tawau, Lahad Datu, Sandakan and Semporna, all facing the maritime border between Malaysia and the Philippines.
Kiram's ceasefire call came after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged a peaceful resolution to the bizarre incursion, Malaysia's biggest security crisis in years.
It also coincided with a sudden visit to the area by the country's leader to inspect security operations.
Najib's government tried for three weeks to persuade the invaders to leave but launched a military assault Tuesday after they continually refused and engaged security forces in a pair of deadly shootouts. - with reports from KD Suarez, Carlos Santamaria & Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com