Don't believe 'rumors' - Malaysian PM

MANILA, Philippines - Malaysians should not believe "rumors" that the country's security forces have been "undermined" by Filipinos engaged in the standoff in Sabah, Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Sunday, March 3.

"Rumors are unfounded and not based on the actual situation. The people of Sabah should not be fearful of their safety," Razak told reporters after a political rally, according a report by state news agency Bernama.

The Malaysian leader confirmed that 3 shooting incidents took place between Friday and Sunday in Lahad Datu, Semporna and Kunak and said that security forces are tracking the suspects.

At least 21 people -- 14 militants and 7 Malaysian policemen -- died in 2 separate firefights in Sabah. Malaysia's national police chief however did not confirm whether the second clash was linked to the standoff between local security forces and supporters of self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

The 74-year-old Kiram claims to be the heir to the Islamic sultanate of Sulu, which once controlled parts of the southern Philippines and the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo.

President Benigno Aquino III has sharply criticized the intruders and urged them to surrender unconditionally, but a spokesman for Kiram has said his followers were prepared to die to defend their historical claim over Sabah. - with reports from Carlos Santamaria/Rappler.com