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Malaysia Rejects Ceasefire Offer by Filipino Muslim Group

Protesters scorned Philippine President Benigno Aquino III for allegedly mishandling the standoff between members of a Philippine Muslim clan, who took over an entire Malaysian village to lay claim to a sprawling Borneo state, Manila, Philippines, March 7, 2013.
Malaysia has rejected a ceasefire proposal by a Philippines-based militant group fighting for control of a resource-rich area on the island of Borneo.

Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday said the Filipino Muslim group must surrender or risk being eliminated by Malaysian troops, saying the time for negotiations is over.

"They must lay down their weapons and surrender unconditionally," he urged. "The weapons must be submitted to us."

He was responding to an offer by the group's self-proclaimed sultan, Jamalul Kiram, who earlier in the day announced a unilateral ceasefire and urged Malaysia to reciprocate.

Malaysia on Tuesday launched a military assault to drive the group out of the remote area. But most of the militants are believed to have escaped into the neighboring farmland.

The dispute began in mid-February when around 200 members of the armed group stormed a seaside village and demanded to be recognized as the ancestral owners of the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah. At least 60 people have since died in clashes.

The militants belong to the Sultanate of Sulu, a former Islamic power that once controlled parts of Borneo and the southern Philippines. Although the sultanate lost power about a century ago, the group still claims sovereignty over the area, which it says was illegally merged with Malaysia when it gained independence from Britain.