Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman told the TV3 station that Malaysia regards the Filipino group as "terrorists" who have committed "atrocities and brutalities." Officials are studying what laws could be invoked against them, Anifah said, adding that Manila should also take legal action against Kiram.
Some in Muslim-majority Malaysia had called for patience in handling the Lahad Datu group. But after the Filipinos fatally shot two Malaysia policemen on Friday and six other personnel were ambushed and killed by other Filipino assailants while inspecting a waterfront village in a separate district on Saturday, the Malaysian government declared the time for talk was over.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III went on national TV twice this past week to urge the Filipino group to lay down its arms, warning the situation could imperil about 800,000 Filipino settlers in Sabah.
Some activists say border security and immigration policies must be revamped for Sabah, where hundreds of thousands of Filipinos have headed in recent decades — many of them illegally — to seek work and stability.
Malaysia has repeatedly intensified its naval patrols, but the long and porous sea border with the Philippines remains difficult to guard.
The crisis could have wide-ranging political ramifications in both countries. Some fear it might undermine peace talks brokered by Malaysia between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main Muslim rebel group in the southern Philippines.
It might also affect voter sentiment in a Malaysian general election that must be held by the end of June. Najib needs strong support from voters in Sabah to fend off an opposition alliance that hopes to end more than five decades of federal rule by his National Front coalition.
Associated Press writers Hrvoje Hranjski and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.
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