Armm gears up for mass evacuation, deportation-A A +A
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
MANILA (Updated) -- Authorities in southern Philippines have prepared for possible mass evacuation of Filipinos in Sabah amid the ongoing standoff between the Malaysian Government and followers of a Muslim royal clan in Sulu.
The Malaysian Government escalated Wednesday its hunt for armed followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who entered Sabah last February 12 to reclaim the territory, insisting it once belonged to the Sultanate of Sulu for more than a century and should be handed back.
Malaysian security forces on Wednesday clashed with Kiram’s group after the armed Filipinos escaped a military assault with fighter jets and mortar fire on their hideout, police said. One Filipino was shot and believed killed.
It was not clear if any of the intruders suffered any casualties in Tuesday's assault before they melted away into the jungles, chased by hundreds of Malaysian security forces. Previous clashes between the two sides have left 19 intruders and eight policemen dead.
Malaysia's national police chief Ismail Omar said security forces exchanged gunfire in a hilly coastal district thick with foliage slightly after dawn. One clansman was shot and possibly killed, he said.
"We're in a good position. We ask the public not to panic," Ismail said, adding that authorities would expand their search area beyond the current four square kilometers (1.5 square miles).
In anticipation of mass evacuation and deportation of Filipinos from Malaysia to Tawi-Tawi due to the standoff, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) has created Task Force Tabang Basulta (Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi).
The action and operation team of the local disaster agency and the Municipal Peace and Order Council held a meeting to identify the schools, state universities and municipal gyms in Sulu as the potential evacuation centers for the possible deportees from Sabah.
The Office of Civil Defense in Basulta, which has also been placed under blue alert status, ordered all its personnel to monitor and update any related information in connection with the ongoing Sabah standoff, the NDRRMC said.
A crisis management committee in the Western Mindanao Command was also formed.
The NDRRMC said that on Tuesday afternoon, 72 evacuees from Sabah arrived at Sibutu Island in Sulu, adding more Filipinos are expected to arrive.
The Philippine Coast Guard said earlier that two of its vessels have been prepositioned in Zamboanga City to assist Filipinos in Sabah who would need evacuation due to the ongoing standoff.
President Benigno Aquino III said in earlier statements that there are currently 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah. (Emmanuel Louis Bacani/With AP/Sunnex)