Security alert launched in Sabah following attacks in Zamboanga

Security forces walks past debris scattered on a street after rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) clashed with government troops in Zamboanga city.

KOTA KINABALU - Malaysia has launched a security alert along the coastal borders of Sabah with the southern Philippines following Moro rebel attacks on Zamboanga City.

The security alert was issued due to the possibility that the clashes might spill over into Malaysian territory, said Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) director-general Datuk Mohammad Mentek.

He said Malaysian security forces have taken up measures to strengthen the sea borders between the two countries.

"Esscom is also coordinating checks with our security forces following the incident," he said when contacted yesterday.

Mohammad dismissed claims by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that some 4,000 foreign-trained Tausug fighters who are embedded in Sabah and Sarawak have been activated.

He added that such claims are part of the group's propaganda actions to create suspicion and fear among the people.

"Our intelligence indicates that the claim is a bluff. There is no such thing," he added.

"The militant groups have been spinning all kinds of claims about attacks on security forces in Sabah since the armed incursion by Sulu rebels in Sabah in February," he added.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein also rubbished the claims.

"However, if they come even an inch into our shores, we will know how to deal with them," he told reporters after unveiling the fifth generation Yamaha 115Z at a ceremony here yesterday.

Sabah's close proximity to the southern Philippines has raised fears that the armed groups might flee towards the state in a bid to escape capture by the Philippines authorities.

News reports in the international and Philippine media said MNLF sleepers known as "Bangsa Moro Army" were being activated in the wake of the attacks.

MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla was quoted as saying that the mobilisation of the fighters was to protect the Tausugs, who he claimed have been the subject of an immigration crackdown by Malaysian authorities recently.

Yesterday's attack on Zamboanga was reportedly launched by the MNLF faction of former Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao governor Nur Misuari.

Misuari has claimed independence for Palawan, Zamboanga Peninsula, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and even North Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak).

Many in Manila took lightly of the ageing Misuari's declaration of independence as they saw it as a move to threaten Manila to include the MNLF in the Mindanao peace process.

They also believed that he did not have the support of the fighters for his independence plan after he claimed that the MNLF was excluded from the peace talks.

MILF broke away from the MNLF following the 1996 peace deal.