Doubts emerge over Malaysian assault on invaders

Updated 06 March 2013
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Doubts emerge over Malaysian assault on invaders

FELDA SAHABAT, Malaysia: Malaysia’s military yesterday launched a fierce assault including jet fighters on up to 300 Filipino intruders after a deadly three-week standoff, but the militants’ supporters said they had escaped and were alive and well.
Earlier Malaysia’s national police chief had also raised doubts about the success of the air and ground attack, saying “mopping up” operations had yet to find any bodies and suggesting at least some of the militants might have slipped away.
Malaysian Premier Najib Razak said as the raid was under way that he had no choice but to unleash the military to end Malaysia’s biggest security crisis in years after the interlopers refused to surrender and 27 people were killed.
A day after the Philippines called for restraint, Malaysia launched a dawn assault on the estimated 100-300 gunmen on Borneo island, who invaded to claim Malaysian territory on behalf of a former Philippine sultanate.
Fighter jets bombed the standoff village of Tanduo in Sabah state on the northern tip of Borneo Island, followed by a ground assault by troops. The area is set amid vast oil-palm plantations.
“The longer this invasion lasts, it is clear to the authorities that the invaders do not intend to leave Sabah,” Najib said in a statement.
But Abraham Idjirani, spokesman for the sultan Jamalul Kiram III, said that the attack had occurred “away from where” their men were, saying he spoke with the leader of the armed group about eight hours after the assault was launched.
Malaysian federal police chief Ismail Omar told reporters in a press conference hours after the initial attack that soldiers combing across a wide area of hilly plantation country were yet to find any dead militants.
“I have instructed my commanders to be on alert because we believe the enemies are still out there,” Ismail said.
He added Malaysian forces had suffered no casualties.
But if even some of the invaders had escaped a tight police and military cordon, it would likely fuel perceptions of incompetence by security forces in the affair, and sow fears that armed and dangerous gunmen were loose.
The crisis comes just as Malaysia’s 56-year-old ruling coalition is bracing for what are widely expected to be the country’s closest-ever election against a formidable opposition, which has harshly criticized handling of the incursion.
Jamalul Kiram III, 74, a self-proclaimed sultan and leader of the insurgents said earlier Tuesday in Manila that the invaders, which had included his younger brother “will fight to the last man.”
Muslim-majority Malaysia has been shocked by the spectacularly bold stunt by the radicals, who claim to be asserting Jamalul’s ancestral control of Sabah as heir to the now defunct Sulu sultanate.
The invaders had been holed up in Tanduo village since landing by boat last month, highlighting lax Malaysian security in the region and the continuing threat from southern Philippine extremists.
After the assault began, Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman blamed the intruders for the assault. “We’ve done everything we could to prevent this, but in the end, Kiram’s people chose this path,” said the spokesman, Ricky Carandang.
After a lengthy standoff, violence first erupted in Tanduo on Friday with a shootout that left 12 of the gunmen and two police officers dead.
Another gun battle Saturday in the town of Semporna, hours away by road, killed six police and six gunmen, raising fears of a wider guerrilla infiltration and leading to yesterday’s military operation.
Police had already said at the weekend they were hunting for a group of “foreign” gunmen in yet another town, but have provided no further updates.


Russia says US building ‘visa wall’ after Bolshoi dancers denied entry

Updated 36 min 19 sec ago
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Russia says US building ‘visa wall’ after Bolshoi dancers denied entry

  • The Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the United States’ decision to refuse visas to Russian prima ballerina Olga Smirnova and soloist dancer Jacopo Tissi.
  • Russian Foreign Ministry: “They are trying to fence off Americans from Russians with a visa wall, as we’ve said before, making trips of our citizens to the USA practically impossible.”

MOSCOW: Russia said on Saturday the United States was trying to fence off Russians with a “visa wall” after two Bolshoi ballet dancers were refused visas to perform in New York.
The Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the United States’ decision to refuse visas to Russian prima ballerina Olga Smirnova and soloist dancer Jacopo Tissi, who were due to perform at a Lincoln Center gala.
“This did not happen even during the Cold War,” the ministry said in a statement on its website.
“But today, influential forces in the USA, preoccupied with trying to pressure Russia hard, do not stop at anything... They are trying to fence off Americans from Russians with a visa wall, as we’ve said before, making trips of our citizens to the USA practically impossible,” it said.
Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre said it could not comment because it did not organize the tour and had no information on the visa applications.
“Since the work visa was also not issued on time for Jacopo Tissi, an Italian national, we would like to think that this was related to procedural formalities and not to the current political tensions,” its press office said in emailed comments.
The US embassy in Moscow did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
On Friday, Kremlin said the United States was deliberately making it difficult for Aeroflot crews to obtain US visas, after the Russian foreign ministry said it could not rule out the possibility that flights between the two countries might have to be halted because of the situation.