|Malaysian soldiers patrol in the east coastal town of Lahad Datu in Sabah, Malaysia, March 12, 2013. A Malaysian soldier and three gunmen were killed in fresh gunfights Tuesday, raising the death toll to 67 in a month-long standoff with the Sulu militants in Malaysia's Sabah state. (Xinhua)|
LAHAD DATU, Malaysia, March 12 (Xinhua) -- A Malaysian soldier and three gunmen were killed
in fresh gunfights Tuesday, raising the death toll to 67 in a month-long standoff with the Sulu militants in Malaysia's Sabah state.
Armed forces chief Zulkifeli Mohd Zin said the three gunmen, who were in a group of five militants, were killed near the coastal Tanjung Batu village Tuesday morning.
The fresh casualties came after police declared they had retaken one of the villages occupied by the militants.
Police also captured six Sulu terrorist suspects in a raid following and one of them was a high-risk criminal on the wanted list.
More gunmen are believed to have been killed as security forces continued house-by-house search in two villages, including Tanjung Batu, to flush out the militants whom showed no signs of surrender.
Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin made a morale-boosting visit to the troops in Sabah Tuesday.
A group of more than 180 militants arrived in the east coastal town of Lahad Datu in Sabah from southern Philippines on Feb. 9 to claim territorial rights to the land.
They claimed to be followers of a defunct Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, who demanded Sabah be returned to his sultanate.
Civilians who fled Sabah said many villagers trapped in the standoff need food and medical treatment.
The Malaysian troops have been battling with the Philippine militants since March 1 in an intense standoff that left 67 dead, including eight policemen and a soldier.
Malaysia launched an all-out raid codenamed "Sovereign Operation" that included airstrikes and ground assaults on several areas Tuesday to wipe out the militants.
Thousands of Filipinos have also fled Sabah for their home country since the violence broke out.
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