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Philippines president calls for surrender after standoff turns deadly

From Alba Prifti, CNN
updated 1:49 AM EST, Sat March 2, 2013
A Malaysian policemen mans a security check in the areas where suspected Philippine militants are located in Borneo on Monday.
A Malaysian policemen mans a security check in the areas where suspected Philippine militants are located in Borneo on Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 100 Filipinos arrived by boat on the Malaysian coast in February
  • They say they represent a sultanate that once ruled the area
  • "The only correct thing for you to do is to surrender," president says

(CNN) -- Philippine President Benigno Aquino III ordered a group of Muslim rebels to surrender Saturday after an ongoing standoff led to bloodshed.

"From the very start, our objective has been to avoid the loss of lives and the shedding of blood," Aquino said in a statement Saturday. "If you have grievances, the path you chose was wrong. The just, and indeed, the only correct thing for you to do is to surrender."

The peculiar standoff, which started in February on Borneo between Malaysian security forces and a group of men from the southern Philippines, has its roots in a recent landmark peace deal between Manila and Muslim rebels, according to experts on the region.

More than 100 men from the mainly Muslim southern Philippines came ashore in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo, demanding to be recognized as representatives of a sultanate that has historical claims on the area.

Their claims touch on an unresolved territorial question between the Philippines and Malaysia, as well as Manila's efforts to improve relations with Islamic insurgents in the country's south after decades of violence.

Malaysian police and armed forces soon surrounded the village in the eastern Sabah district of Lahad Datu, where the men had gathered. Police officials said they were negotiating with the group in an effort to persuade its members to return to their homes in the Philippines peacefully.

Ten to 12 of the gunmen, and two Malaysian commandos were killed in clashes in the area,the official Philippines News Agency reported.

CNN's Jennifer Deaton contributed to this report.

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